Wednesday, April 8, 2020
In case it was missed the first time around; Jesus, the disciples and several thousands of people have been out in a remote place for three days. The people are hungry. Jesus is concerned because he has compassion on all those people. He fears they may soon collapse from hunger.
The disciples are concerned that there is nowhere in that remote place where they can find enough bread to feed so many people. Jesus asks them how many loaves they have. It turns out they have seven loaves and a few, small fish. If I remember correctly that is more than what they had earlier with an even larger crowd.
Jesus offers the crowd a seat, took the meager supplies they had on hand, gave thanks for them and began distributing them through the disciples to the hungry throng around them. Once again, everyone had enough to eat and this time there were seven baskets full of leftovers. Jesus probably fed around 10,000 people with seven loaves and a few, small fish.
I am thinking. Sometimes I don’t think I have enough. When I look at the checking account and compare it to the bills there just doesn’t seem to be enough. When I look at our retirement account and at my quickly advancing age there just doesn’t seem to be enough. When I compare my lot with those around me there just doesn’t seem to be enough.
But maybe that’s the point here. Maybe it is more than seeing what I have in my hand and worrying that it’s not enough. Instead, maybe I should look at it in Jesus’s hand and realize that it is enough.
Maybe that’s the point. Instead of looking through eyes of scarcity and doubt and worry maybe we are to look through eyes of abundance. Instead of worrying about what’s in my hands maybe I should just see it in Jesus’ hands where it will always be enough.
For that to happen I need to place it all into Jesus’ hands. I choose to do that today. I say goodbye to scarcity. I say goodbye to worry. I say hello to abundant living in Jesus.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Some have mighty problems with this passage. Some can’t believe how Jesus responds to this Gentile woman. Some believe him to be cruel, insensitive, even racist. But by this time in our reading we should know the character of Jesus, shouldn’t we? We should know that the character of Jesus is beyond reproach so, there must be something else going on here.
First, there is something greater going on here which supersedes even our individual needs; the formation of the kingdom of God as Jesus focuses on training his disciples and establishing the kingdom of God in Israel to eventually bless and benefit all people everywhere. That may be good for us to remember even now…
Perhaps this is a test of the disciples’ compassion. We have seen recently with the feeding of the 5,000 that their solution to the great needs of the crowds is to send them away to fend for themselves rather than to seek a compassionate solution for their hunger. In this case they again look toward Jesus as the solution by asking him to send this woman away because she’s bothering them.
But most importantly I see this as a test of this Gentile woman’s faith. We have seen Jesus work miracles on behalf of Gentiles elsewhere. Remember the Roman Centurion whose servant was deathly ill? Jesus marveled at his faith.
Here I think Jesus is testing the depth of this Gentile woman’s faith. As an outsider, she boldly seeks out Jesus. She boldly responds to Jesus. One can even say she bests Jesus with her quick, witty, faithful response; she at the very least, bests the Pharisees in their responses to Jesus. Jesus discovers in her genuine faith, commends her for her great faith and heals her daughter immediately.
But as we read what if we are the ones being tested here? When our privacy is invaded by someone in great need how do we respond? Do we look for compassionate ways to help them? Or do we look for the quickest way to avoid them and send them on their way?
Furthermore, as we read of this outsider’s faith in Jesus we may want to look deep inside ourselves and see how our faith measures up. Do we have such faith to go against the grain? Do we have such faith to ignore social mores? Do we have such faith to boldly approach the throne of grace in spite of ourselves?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Monday, April 06, 2020
Although not in Jerusalem, the Pharisees and teachers of the law leave Jerusalem and come out once again to put Jesus to the test. They accuse Jesus by proxy because his disciples do not properly wash their hands before they eat.
Now, for us in this moment in time when we are called upon out of an abundance of caution to social-distance ourselves and to be sure and wash our hands thoroughly almost constantly due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we realize the importance of washing our hands at all times not just before we eat but this is not what is going on here.
The washing of hands referred to here is most likely a ritualistic washing of the hands and is a tradition of the Pharisees and teachers of the law rather than from God’s heart. Jesus, without blinking, demonstrates their own hypocrisy by the way they have used their own traditions to supplant one of God’s treasured Ten Commandments.
Jesus uses the words of Isaiah to indict them for being people who on the outside seem to be God’s people but who are not in reality because their hears are far from God. They are more prone to follow human laws than obey God.
He then tells them that what comes out of their mouths is what defiles them, not what goes in to their mouths. When later questioned by the disciples as to his meaning Jesus explains that what goes in to one’s mouth and trust me, there had been so much written and observed about what went in to one’s mouth, does not defile a person.
But rather what comes out of a person’s mouth is what defiles a person because the mouth is linked inextricably to the heart and what comes out of one’s mouth reveals what is in one’s heart. Jesus goes on to list several of the things found in the human heart which defile the human heart: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander.
Once again Jesus demonstrates that the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. We human beings get so caught up in the externals, we major in the externals, when the reality is internal. I will quote Abraham Lincoln here who once purportedly said, “Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt,” except even then our hearts are revealed because God knows our hearts. We don’t even have to speak it.
So, what are we to do?
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Saturday, April 4, 2020
“And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all the sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. “ (Matthew 14: 32 – 36, NIV)
As Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat, all in the boat worshiped Jesus, perhaps recognizing fully for the first time who he truly was, the Son of God. Well, at least for the moment, anyway.
This is one of those glorious signs that the Pharisees and well everyone, including Satan, wanted to see Jesus perform to prove who he was. And here we see Jesus performing one of those incredible, amazing works but all by himself as part of his relationship with his Father.
It is clear he doesn’t do it for any public acclaim. Just the day before, according to John’s gospel, Jesus had purposefully withdrawn when the crowds approached to make him king by force. I have a hunch that Jesus walked on the water in private joy. I have a hunch Jesus walked on the water for its expediency. I have a hunch Jesus walked on the water to tweak the disciples’ attention.
I don’t think for a moment that Jesus walked on the water to prove to them who he was. They should have already known that without a doubt. And let’s be honest, not too far from now they will once again be consumed with thoughts of doubt and fear.
I don’t really think we can be brought to Jesus out of amazement. The amazement will soon wear off and where does that leave us? I don’t really think we can be brought to Jesus out of fear. The fear will soon wear off and where does that leave us?
We are brought to GOD by the tugging, drawing, wooing power of the Holy Spirit long before we are ever aware of him. We are brought to GOD by love. Wondering how to bring your loved ones into relationship with Christ? Walking on water, although glamorous, probably won’t do it and you will most likely just end up getting wet. Intentionally loving them no matter what, most likely will lead them to the Cross of Calvary where they will encounter the Christ who loves them no matter what.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
After dismissing the well-fed crowds, Jesus went up on the mountainside to pray and commune with his Father. After the prayer he decided to do a little wave-walking. Can you imagine that? I have always thought that was so cool and I think it shows us a glimpse of enjoying himself, walking across the lake, continuing to converse with his Daddy. This has always been one of those moments of pure joy in Jesus’ life.
The disciples have been rowing for hours without a whole lot of luck. They are rowing against the wind. Suddenly, they look out and see someone walking across the waves toward them. It was just before dawn so still pretty dark. Can you imagine that? They must have been terrified. I still think Jesus was enjoying every moment of it.
You see, we are told later that even after knowing all about the five loaves and two little fishes, even after serving those five loaves and two little fishes to perhaps as many as 12,000 people, even after picking up twelve baskets of leftovers that the disciples still hadn’t grasped what had happened.
They still hadn’t come fully to the conclusion that this man they were traveling with, this man they had lived with for almost three years now, this man whose teaching blew them away, this man who daily did things that shocked and awed them was actually, literally, prophetically the very Son of God. And here he comes as if to emphasize all of that calmly, nonchalantly strolling across the lake to them. Hallelujah!
They immediately thought him a ghost until he told them to buck up and identified himself to them. Peter, perhaps still unsure of the identify of this dark-dispelling, wave-walker told him that if it was truly him to tell him to join him in cavorting on the waves. It had to have looked like fun. Jesus orders Peter to come and Peter, well he went.
Peter discovered that he could actually walk on the water just like Jesus – an exhilarating moment! But then, poor Peter began to think about what was happening, he was walking on water. He momentarily took his eyes off Jesus and focused instead on the water, the waves and the wind and before he knew it he had sunk up to his neck in the water and the waves.
Crying out for Jesus to save him, Jesus grabs him and asks him why he doubted. Why do we doubt? Is it because we become so focused on all that’s swirling around us instead of keeping our eyes on Jesus? May we all train our eyes to focus on Jesus regardless of the raging wind around us.
Thursday, April 02, 2020
Matthew 14: 22 – 24
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from the land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” (NIV)
When this chapter began Jesus had just heard the news that John the Baptist, his cousin, his forerunner, had been executed by Herod. Wanting to get away with the disciples to some remote place to perhaps mourn privately and process John’s death with the disciples, they are followed by a massive crowd.
Jesus changes his plans and begins to heal all the sick. I confess here that I can’t imagine what that must have been like for Jesus but I have a hunch it must have drained him to give so much of himself to so many when apparently he needed some down time. Anyway, he chose compassion and healing for others.
Demonstrating even more care and concern for the crowd he took care of dinner for them. Again, I have no idea what it would be like to miraculously feed thousands of people from a few loaves and fishes but it must have been exhaustive, draining work. All eyes were on Jesus looking to him for compassion, looking to him for healing, looking to him for food and he simply had wanted to get away…
After dinner, knowing the fatigue of the disciples, he sent them on their way and then Jesus took even more time to dismiss the crowds properly. He then went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. He finally found the time he needed to mourn and grieve in his Father’s arms.
This had been a landmark day in the life of Jesus. According to John after Jesus fed the thousands and thousands of people with just a few loaves and fishes, the thousands and thousands realized something amazing had happened and approached Jesus to make him their king. This had to have been a heady moment for Jesus, perhaps it was even one of those more-opportune moments for Satan to return in temptation.
How did Jesus respond? He went off privately to pray to his Father. This was not an isolated incident. We are told throughout Scripture that Jesus often went off privately to pray to his Father. Feeling overwhelmed? Feeling like all eyes are upon you? Feeling like you are all alone?
What better time to go off privately and pray to the Father. Amen? Amen!
Wednesday, April 01, 2020
Matthew 14: 13 – 21
It had been a long day. Jesus heard the news that his cousin John had been executed by Herod. Seemingly, Jesus wanted nothing more than to get away with his disciples. Maybe he wanted to get away with his disciples so he could mourn privately. Maybe he knew taking the disciples to a remote place would give them the opportunity to process John’s death and all that was swirling around them without an audience.
But neither privacy nor remote locations afforded Jesus the opportunity to be alone with his disciples to process, to mourn, to rest, to recover. Massive crowds followed Jesus. What would you have done in such a situation? Would you have yelled at them and caused them to scatter? I may have. Fatigue and grief and expectations will do that but not Jesus.
No, Jesus changed his plans. Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick. The disciples? The disciples didn’t demonstrate much compassion and actually wanted Jesus to send them away knowing that at that late hour there was really nowhere for them to go and find food. At least they would be out of their hair.
Knowing their need and meeting them at their need, Jesus told the disciples to feed the crowds. I imagine them looking forlornly around them and seeing those five small loaves of bread and two itty, bitty fish while huffing and puffing in frustration maybe even while muttering under their breath. One thing is for certain, they looked without truly seeing, without any hope. It seems they were looking more from scarcity than abundance. They forgot themselves; actually, more than forgetting who they were they forgot who they were with and what He could do with His hands of abundance.
In His hands those few small loaves and two small fish became a sumptuous banquet for thousands and thousands of people. Thousands of people ate and were satisfied in the middle of nowhere! They had twelve baskets full of leftovers! Can you imagine that?
Some say those twelve baskets represented the twelve tribes of Israel or the twelve disciples or whatever but I say those twelve baskets of leftovers simply represented God’s glorious, generous, extravagant, unbelievable, amazing, every day kind of grace!
As we look at the world around us do we look through eyes of scarcity, grasping tightly what we have, afraid we may lose it, afraid we don’t have enough? Or do we look at the world around us through eyes of abundance knowing that we have a GOD with limitless resources who sees a few loaves of bread and a couple fish as an endless banquet so we can loosen our grip and let Him work through us with His unlimited grace?
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Matthew 14: 1 – 12
Long after the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist continued to be John the Baptist. He had to be because that’s, that’s just who he was. Arrested because he told Herod that he shouldn’t be married to his brother’s wife, John had spent quite a bit of time in jail.
Remember, when watching the ministry of Jesus from his jail cell he sent his disciples to see if Jesus really was the Messiah or should they wait for another? I am sure he had heard all of the astounding reports of Jesus but maybe, just maybe rotting away in a jail cell just didn’t seem like the coming kingdom of God to John.
Anyway, we don’t really know how long John was in jail but we are told that though he wanted to execute John, Herod feared John’s supporters would riot upon his execution for they believed him to be a prophet. However, at a birthday party where I imagine the wine was flowing and all inhibitions were ignored, John’s step-daughter danced to impress and John was so impressed that he basically gave her the keys of the kingdom.
She consulted with her dear mother who convinced her to ask instead for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. The young, beautiful dancer’s wish was Herod’s command and John lost his head. I saw a movie once of this scene where even after the sword had cut off his head we still heard John say “repent.” To the bitter end John called for repentance, longing for all, even Herod, to become right with God.
When I think of John’s life – his barren mother, his father Zechariah’s mysterious encounter with the angel Gabriel, Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah’s inability to speak, John leaping in his mother’s womb when the pregnant Mary crossed their threshold, his powerful preaching that reverberated through the land, his hesitancy to baptize Jesus knowing that Jesus didn’t need the baptism of repentance and his faithfulness to his call long after the national spotlight had left him – I am grateful for his faithfulness.
More than that, I am convicted by John’s faithfulness. On those days when it just seems too tough; on those days when it just seems pointless; on those days when it just seems like I have been passed by; on those days when it seems I am no longer relevant; I remember John the Baptist and am reminded of my calling to be faithful regardless of the circumstances.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a son.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a saint.
Monday, March 30, 2020
Matthew 13: 53 – 58
This is curious to me, curious indeed. Jesus and the disciples pass through his hometown and Jesus does there what he did everywhere – he preached in his normal authoritative, amazing way and performed his typical, ho-hum, every day, mind-blowing miracles. We are told that his homies were amazed so we know something awesome was happening right there in his hometown.
But then, the muttering began. Isn’t that word “muttering” so descriptive? It always makes me feel more than a little slimy and convicted. What were they muttering? “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
Judging by their questions, they thought they knew all about him. They thought they knew who his father was. They thought they knew all about his family. And for some reason their perceived knowledge about him kept them from recognizing him for whom he really was, even though they expressed amazement at his teaching and miracles.
This self-proclaimed knowledge about Jesus kept them from trusting him, kept them from accepting him. They even became offended at him. How is that even possible – for amazing teaching and incredible miracles? Their surplus of self-proclaimed knowledge about Jesus led to offense and denial and even restricted him from doing many miracles there.
Are we guilty of the same thing? Have we become so familiar with Jesus through reading the Bible that we think we know all about him? Does our knowledge about him or about the text or about the Bible in general frankly keep us from really knowing Him and accepting Him for who He is – our Lord, our Savior? How do we restrict Jesus from acting powerfully in our own lives?
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a son.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a saint.
Saturday, March 28, 2020
Matthew 13: 47 – 52
A farmer went out to sow his seed; a man who sowed good seed in his field; a mustard seed; yeast; treasure hidden in a field; a merchant looking for fine pearls; a net that was let down into the lake. What do all these have in common? They were all diverse images used by Jesus to describe distinct characteristics of the kingdom of heaven.
Over the last few days we have seen the kingdom of heaven compared to a farmer who sowed the seed graciously, four different types of soils or hearts waiting to receive that seed of the kingdom and the consequences of each type. We saw the man who sowed good seed and yet his enemy sowed weeds in amongst the seed which pointed toward the coming judgment when the kingdom of God would be fulfilled here on earth as it is in heaven.
We saw how the kingdom starts out small like a mustard seed or yeast; seemingly unimportant and certainly un-noticed but with the potential to grown large and transformative for all to experience. We saw by the hidden treasure and discovered pearl just how worthy the kingdom of heaven is: worth all that we have, all that we own, all that we are – our everything.
Today as the kingdom of heaven is compared to a net we return to the truth of coming judgment. Do you ever think about the judgment? I can’t say I think about it often but maybe I should. Whenever I think of the coming judgment I get more than a bit uncomfortable and quite frankly, I think about something else. I mean, I know what I deserve and it ain’t purty… Actually, as we approach ever closer to Easter if you want to see what I deserve just look at what Jesus suffered on the cross. That pretty much covers what I deserve.
And yet, and yet, I remember what the apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 5:18-21: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them… We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
As we think about that net swooping down toward judgment let us cry out to the One who holds the net, the same one who died on that cross for mercy:
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Amen? Amen!
Friday, March 27, 2020
Matthew 13: 44 – 46
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
The kingdom of heaven is mysterious. The kingdom of heaven is often hidden to us. We may stumble upon the kingdom of heaven without even looking for it. We may find the kingdom of heaven after a lifetime of searching. But I have a hunch that the kingdom of heaven is always right with us drawing us ever closer until we see, until we trust.
When one finds the kingdom of heaven, joy fills the land. When one finds the kingdom of heaven one realizes the worth and will give all they own, all they have, all they are for the kingdom of heaven. For there is nothing like the kingdom of heaven; there is nothing like becoming a living part of the kingdom.
Why, I heard from someone just this week that I haven’t talked to in decades who shared with me their sustained joy in finding the transforming, transcending kingdom of heaven. There is nothing like discovering the kingdom of God and one’s intentionally designed place in it; not gold, not silver, not cold, hard cash, not fame, not celebrity, not even pearls.
As Jesus once said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16: 24 – 26)
What have you given for the kingdom of heaven? What will you give for the kingdom of heaven?
Thursday, March 26, 2020
Matthew 13: 31 – 35
“He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’ He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’”
I am familiar with mustard seeds. My uncle ran a hardware store and sold a lot of seeds. He had a huge, galvanized trash can filled with mustard seed. One of my favorite past-times while hanging out with my uncle was burying my hands down deep into those tiny seeds; they were indeed tiny seeds. My grandparents actually planted mustard seeds out in their backyard garden and I remember how large those plants grew and even recall crows sitting on the branches.
I am even more familiar with homemade bread. Can I get a hallelujah? Not because I have ever made homemade bread but have eaten my body weight in homemade bread! I grew up in a family with incredible cooks who made homemade bread not just on special occasions but on every occasion which made them special occasions. I can smell it even now. I remember watching both my mother and my grandmother prepare the dough, let it rise, beat it down and let it rise again before tearing it down into rolls or loaves to bake. My mouth is watering right now. Hallelujah!
Jesus uses the tiny mustard seed which grows into a large plant and tiny yeast which works through sixty pounds of dough to demonstrate the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God starts small maybe with a baby in a manger that soon transforms and transcends the world with his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.
The kingdom of God starts small maybe with one member of a family coming to know Jesus personally and eventually leading the rest of the family to the throne of grace. The kingdom of God starts small maybe with a word of kindness during a moment of despair or stopping to change someone’s tire on a blind curve or giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty man… The kingdom of God starts small with a young child walking alone to Sunday school and encountering the living Christ in his teacher’s kind lessons.
And before we know it; tiny demonstrations of world-changing grace have gloriously grown to fill up the world with love and grace and forgiveness and the eternal aroma of the Bread of Life.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43
Jesus tells another parable about sowing and seed. In this parable a man sowed good seed in his field but while all slept, his enemy creeped in and sowed weeds among the wheat. As the wheat grew they soon realized that weeds had been secretly laced in with the good crop.
Rather than immediately ordering that the weeds be plucked out at the risk of the good wheat, the owner ordered that they let both the wheat and the weeds grow together to maturity and then at harvest time both will be collected and separated. The wheat will be gathered safely into the barn while the weeds will be gathered and burned.
Later, the disciples asked Jesus to explain this parable to them. We soon discover that this simple parable of a farmer, his field, good seeds and bad weeds is actually a panoramic view of the kingdom of God in the world. The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom of God, the weeds are the people of the evil one and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
Jesus’s panoramic view captures the contemporary view of the kingdom of God here already but not quite yet in a divine mystery. The people of the kingdom find themselves living here and now in a world often surrounded intentionally by people of the evil one. This isn’t just a localized scene of treachery this is spiritual warfare on a global level.
At the same time Jesus reveals the total fulfillment of the kingdom of God with the coming judgment at the end of the age when the people of the kingdom will be separated from everything that causes sin and all who do evil will be burned up in agony. The war was won on the cross; a patient GOD gives us time to repent until the ultimate fulfillment of His kingdom on earth.
This is a dire warning from Jesus. A simple agrarian scene is literally packed with meaning ranging from current day-to-day living now through the end of the age. We people of the kingdom, who have submitted ourselves to Christ in trust, find ourselves surrounded by representatives of the evil one yet we are not to violently pluck them out now but let the Son of Man send his angels to deal with them at that perfect time.
I wonder. It seems Jesus isn’t too worried about the effect of the evil one or his people damaging the people of the kingdom. If we are not to pluck them out now, does it mean we have the potential and the possibility to impact them with our Holy Spirit empowered, holy living; with our lives of humility, grace, love and forgiveness? Does it mean we are still living in a time of mercy when even those bad weeds can still repent and find the King of mercy?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
I am veering off our daily plan for today. If you are following along with us on “Listen to Him” you have become familiar with the daily prayer there which serves to remind us who we are in Christ and our need for God’s mercy. Here is a reminder of that prayer:
“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a son/daughter.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a saint.”
I want to remind you of another prayer which means so much to me and God continues to use in my life to conform me to His will and transform me. You may be most familiar with this prayer during the Watchnight Service around New Year’s Day but this has become a daily necessity for me.
“A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition”
(Brian Carr Paraphrase)
“I am no longer my own but yours O, Lord.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by You or laid aside for You,
Exalted for You or brought low for You.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made here on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”
Monday, March 23, 2020
Matthew 13: 1 – 23
Today we return to the parable of the sower yet we emphasize the soil types today. In Jesus’ parable the sower seemed to sow indiscriminately. I have heard from some with great farming experience who shared that a good farmer would prepare the soil so that it would be ready to receive the seed. Others questioned whether a good farmer just throws the seed indiscriminately but for me that speaks of God’s limitless, extravagant, glorious grace in sowing wide and broad to bless us all!
I didn’t grow up on a farm but watched my dad out in the corner of the yard when gardening and saw how he plowed up the dirt and then made us go and pick up all the rocks. Then after planting we would have to go weed while still picking up rocks. The honest truth is that to the best of my memory we ended up harvesting more rocks than anything else but I do remember our constant battle against rocks and weeds.
The preparation of the soil is absolutely necessary. When we read this entire parable we discover that when Jesus speaks of the soil he is speaking of the human heart. Jesus explains that as soon as the seed which is the good news of the kingdom is sown in a human heart that the evil one comes and tries to snatch it away. That means we should all be on our guard, alert to the Sower and the seed.
One heart has been hardened and impenetrable over the years by life; another heart is rocky and shallow not permitting the roots to grow down deep; another heart allows the worries and threats and desires of this world to bog it down and choke it out; and finally there are those hearts that are ready to receive and understand and produce great fruit.
As I read I get the sense that I am responsible for the soil of my heart. Have I allowed my heart to grow hardened and embittered over the years when things just didn’t go my way? Have I allowed my heart to remain rocky and shallow by neglecting to remove those disloyal distractions in this life which keep the word of life from deeply penetrating to form roots within me? Have I allowed the unending worries and demands and desires of this world to choke off the word in my heart? Or have I prepared my heart for great harvest and production through surrender, submission, trust, faith, prayer, study, etc.? You know it may be as easy as simply asking God to give us an understanding heart.
How is your heart?
Saturday, March 21, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 13: 1 – 23
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed feel among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13: 3 – 9)
After being so blunt and plain-speaking with the Pharisees Jesus changes tactics here and speaks in parables. In this parable of the sower he talks about a farming sowing his seed which fell in a variety of places and each place responded to that soil in different ways. We will look at this parable over the next two days. Today we start with the farmer.
The farmer sowed a lot of seed in a variety of soils. I picture the farmer tossing the seed to his heart’s content without really aiming the seed. The seed which fell on the hardened path were quickly eaten by birds. The seed which fell on rocky places though growing quickly soon died out in the shallow soil once the scorching sun came out because they had no roots. The seed which fell among thorns grew but was soon choked out by the weeds. The seed which fell in good soil produced a healthy, fruitful crop.
In this parable there is a lot of failure. There are four different types of soil listed and three of the four soil types spelled doom for the seed and the sower. Yet, that seed which indiscriminately fell in the good soil produced an awesome crop.
My friend Gary Stannis told me a story once which resonates with me. As he began his career as a salesman he feared failure. He sometimes didn’t even ask because he didn’t want to hear the word, “NO.” Then he read where it takes 9 “no’s” to ever receive 1 “yes.” That changed Gary’s perspective on the word “no.” Instead of seeing “no” as a failure he began to see each “no” as one step closer to a “yes” and success.
It is the same way with the sower. His seed failed 75% of the time but that which fell on good soil produced a glorious harvest which more than made up for the other failures. Of course, GOD is that great sower who is constantly at working sowing the seed throughout our world in a variety of ways but make no mistake, we are called to participate with the Great Sower as one of his assistant sowers here on earth. The solution to bad soil is to continue to sow widely and broadly until we reach that good, prepared soil.
Keep on sowing. Amen? Amen!
Friday, March 20, 2020 email@example.com
Matthew 12: 46 – 50
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”
We have found an even more difficult passage which makes us squirm evermore. As Jesus speaks to the crowd in a definitely heated atmosphere, perhaps to break the ice and cool things down a bit; someone tells Jesus that his mother and brothers were outside waiting for him, wanting to speak to him. I am pretty good at changing the conversation when it gets too hot and uncomfortable; I just have a hunch this is what that well-meaning person is trying to do here.
Jesus, knowing his time on this earth is short, stays on point. Remember, walking LOVE wants all to come to know and experience the intimate love with the Father, especially his earthly mother and brothers. Matthew doesn’t tell us here but Mark in his gospel in 3:20-21 tells us: “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
The rest of Mark 3 parallels for the most part Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees and ends with the arrival of his mother and brothers. Jesus so wants all to experience his Father’s love and forgiveness that he even aims at his own precious mother and beloved brothers. According to Mark they thought he had lost his mind and were coming to take him away, oh my!
Jesus, at the risk of hurting feelings and damaging relationships, in the hope of drawing them all to the Father reminds them that it comes down to obedient living, doing the will of his Father in heaven. Even better news for us is that all who do the will of the Father in heaven are family members of Jesus, part of the heavenly family. Wow!
Is there any reason why anyone would not want to be part of the family of Jesus?
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Matthew 12: 43 – 45
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, if finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
Like the others, this is a difficult passage. It is included by Matthew here in this ongoing conversation/confrontation/conflagration between Jesus and the Pharisees. I don’t know about you but this passage has always made me feel uncomfortable; frankly, I don’t even like to read it.
Maybe that’s the point; maybe that’s Jesus purpose here. Remember that Jesus lived out love all the time. He was governed by love; matter of fact, He is love. So, all that we have read over the last several days involving the Pharisees though seeming harsh and brutal is all in love to get their attention, to break through their icy, know-it-all hearts, to welcome them into their Father’s arms.
That doesn’t give us the right to brutalize others with our words in the name of Jesus. Jesus lived out love until the bitter end; until the bitter end on the battered cross; until the glorious end of the empty tomb. Do we?
I think we are to be uncomfortable and unsettled by these verses. I suppose that since the Pharisees were the ones that first mentioned the spirit when they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, Jesus returned to speak of the spirit. I wonder if the formerly demon-possessed, deaf and mute man was still in their presence. Maybe as they looked upon him Jesus gave them a warning, Jesus gave us all a warning.
The casting out of the evil spirit was not the end of the matter. The evil spirit could always return. What will he find when the evil spirit returns? Will he find a clean, vacant place that has remained open, available and vulnerable because nothing has really changed within it? Or will he find a space that has been filled up by the Holy Spirit of God; a place that is fully occupied demonstrated by a life lived in obedience to God?
This is an urgent warning to us all. Have we submitted to Christ? Have we invited the Holy Spirit into our lives to fill us up completely in every way? There is still time today to fill up that empty place with the very presence of GOD or else some other spirit uninvited may arrive to bring destruction to our house.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on us sinners.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Matthew 12: 38 – 42
We just can’t seem to escape the plotting of the Pharisees, Jesus couldn’t either. On the heels of getting blasted by Jesus they can’t leave it alone and ask Jesus for a sign. In response Jesus calls them a “wicked and adulterous generation.” Think back a minute to before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
He had just been baptized and we are told that the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tested. It was after fasting for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness that Satan appeared and began to test Jesus. It was Satan who first asked for signs from Jesus. Therefore… we may want to think first before asking Jesus for a sign.
Jesus responds to the Pharisees here once again with bold intensity. He tells them that they are a wicked and adulterous generation because they ask for a sign. He then tells them that the only sign they will receive is the sign of Jonah. You remember Jonah, don’t you? Jonah was that rebellious, quite nationalistic prophet who balked when GOD sent him to preach to Nineveh, the capital of the wicked Assyrians.
Jonah responded to GOD by heading in the exact opposite direction by ship until the ship was battered by a sudden storm and Jonah was tossed into the sea to save the ship and quite frankly, perhaps to save also Jonah and the Assyrians. Sinking into the depths and at the point of drowning, Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and kept alive beneath the sea for three days and three nights. Then, the big fish vomited Jonah up on the shore. Only then was Jonah ready to listen to GOD and obey him, even if it meant preaching to the Ninevites for their salvation.
Jesus certainly uses the sign of Jonah as the Ninevites who heard Jonah’s message, listened to it, repented and turned toward GOD thus escaping from coming judgment and doom. Here, the gist of the sign of Jonah is also his being buried beneath the waves in that belly of the big fish before being spit up and out. Jesus seems to intentional use this sign of Jonah as a clear, unmistakable reference to his death and resurrection.
Jesus also includes the Queen of the South or the Queen of Sheba who came from a long distance to see and hear Solomon and something is here that is much greater than Solomon; as great as he was he dims in comparison to Jesus and the Kingdom of God ushered in by Jesus the Christ.
This is all more proof that Jesus just had not given up on the Pharisees, even if he had to get rough and brutal with them verbally he loved them. He loved them so much that he died for them. He loved them so much that he died for them even as they nailed him to that cross. Wow!
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Matthew 12: 30 – 37
Jesus does not give up on the Pharisees. Even though the Phari still couldn’t see; even though the Phari still wouldn’t see, Jesus didn’t give up on them. You know how I can tell Jesus didn’t give up on the Pharisees?
Because Jesus continued to engage with the Pharisees and would until his final breath struggled from his lungs on the cross. Jesus continued to engage fiercely with the Pharisees in an attempt to break through their hard outer shell to the even harder inner core.
Here, Jesus tells them that He will forgive anything they do to him and everything they say against him but he specifically warns them not to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. I have to presume that he was speaking about the Pharisees accusing him of casting out demons by the Beelzebul, the prince of demons when in reality Jesus was casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit living within him.
They were attributing to the devil power and goodness and grace which only could have come from the Holy Spirit. We hear a lot about the movements of the Holy Spirit around the world. Sometimes those movements seem so farfetched; sometimes those movements seem so outlandish; sometimes those movements are so beyond us that we mock and doubt and question.
Now, there is one thing about being wise and careful and cautious but another entirely different thing about being disrespectful, scornful or blasphemous. I tread lightly here. Some believe Jesus is talking here about absolute denial of one to the Holy Spirit which I believe would come after long periods of abject hardness and refusal of bending to the movements of grace from the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless it behooves all of us to be wise and cautious and respectful. We can certainly know much of the Spirit’s movements through Scripture but as Jesus said in John 3, the Spirit is like the wind…
Jesus once again delves into the heart of the matter by focusing on the matter of the heart. It always comes down to the heart. Perhaps the reality here is that before Jesus could break through the Pharisaical hardness he had to penetrate through to their hearts.
He declares to them that a tree is judged by its fruit just as a man is judged by his deeds. Even more than that, we are judged by our deeds which ultimately reveal our hearts. If we live out and produce good fruit then our hearts are good but if we live out and produce bad fruit then our hearts are bad. I am reminded of this each and every time I say something I shouldn’t.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner…
Monday, March 16, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 12: 24 – 29
We continue from Saturday’s reading when Jesus healed the demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. Some who witnessed the miracle were astonished and wondered if Jesus could be “the Son of David,” referring to the coming Messiah. However, when the Pharisees heard this they attributed Jesus’ abilities to Beelzebul or the devil.
As you can imagine, Jesus had a strong reaction to their accusations. First, he responds to them logically. He explains to them that it just doesn’t make sense to think that Satan would work against himself in casting out demons from himself by himself. Frankly, it confuses me to even write that last statement and most likely confused you as you read it.
Then, Jesus asks them by whom their own people drove out demons who will be their judges. He then tells them that if He casts out demons by the power of the Spirit of God then that means that the kingdom of God has arrived and that means that Jesus is indeed the Son of Man, the Lord of the Sabbath and the Son of David. Oops.
He then points out that in order for someone to enter into the strong man’s home and plunder his home then first they have to conquer the strong man and tie him up; then the plundering and thieving and destruction ensues. Jesus declares here that in reality he is the stronger man who is conquering the strong man – the devil – demonstrating his great strength by casting out demons, Satan’s representatives…
Make no bones about it, Jesus is firmly declaring who he is in these passages by his deeds and his words but, but, the Pharisees can’t hear it, the Pharisees can’t see it. So, I ask again, who is the blind and the mute in this encounter?
Stay tuned tomorrow to see what Jesus does next. Will he give up on the Pharisees?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Saturday, March 14, 2020
Matthew 12: 22 – 24
How do we determine who is blind? Is it the person who can’t see or the person who won’t see? That is the question here which confronts me.
Jesus is brought a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute; he was demon-possessed, he couldn’t see nor could he speak. Jesus healed him and he could immediately see and speak. All who witnessed the miracle were astounded.
Just for a moment, put yourself in that scene. Who are you in that scene? Are you a bystander? Are you the demon-possessed man? Are you that someone who brought the demon-possessed man to Jesus? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you touch? What do you feel? What is it like to witness a demon-possessed person? What is it like to witness a demon-possessed person be set free? How do you feel?
Now, let us return to the scene. This time let us take the role of the Pharisee. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you touch? What do you feel? What is it like to witness a demon-possessed person? What is it like to witness a demon-possessed person be set free? How do you react? What is it like to be such a Pharisee?
From our text today we know that as the common folk were astounded and hopeful, the Pharisees accused Jesus of performing miracles by the hand of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Why? Why can’t the Pharisees see? Why don’t the Pharisees see?
So I ask with fear and trepidation as we return to this text – so who are really the ones who are demon-possessed, blind and mute? It would have been better if the Pharisees had been mute because they accuse Jesus of being Beelzebul. Why – because he allowed his disciples to eat grain on the Sabbath or because he healed the man with the shriveled hand on the Sabbath?
Oh say can you see?
Friday, March 13, 2020
Matthew 12: 15 – 21
Coming off two close encounters with the Pharisees and the Sabbath, Jesus perhaps more by his actions than his words demonstrates the power and the blessing of the Sabbath. I mean his words are eternal as he teaches them that the Sabbath is about mercy and the Sabbath is about doing good and may I say it, the Sabbath is about having fun?
But He lives it out even more by allowing his disciples to walk luxuriously through the grain field, pluck the grain and eat the grain. He lives it out even more by healing the man with the shriveled hand on the Sabbath. The Sabbath should be about mercy and goodness and fun!
But those who guard the Law; those who have built the wall around the Law; those who in fact have corrupted the Law; and unfortunately, those who now represent the Law seem to find no mercy, no good, and no fun in the Sabbath. Quite frankly it seems that the Sabbath has become more about them than it has become about GOD and others…
As they seethe at Jesus and plot his death, Jesus moves on. Followed by a huge crowd of suffering people, we are told that Jesus heals all who were healed. Now, I don’t know if it was still on the Sabbath but regardless, Jesus healed all who were sick! Isn’t that amazing?!
With these encounters still ringing in our ears Matthew leaves us with this messianic prophecy from Isaiah to resonate deep in our hearts. It just may be one of those perfect passages to memorize and meditate on during Lent from Matthew 12: 18 – 21:
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”
The self-proclaimed Son of Man, the Lord of the Sabbath is marked by his humility, is marked by his love for the other; even the other who is seen and used simply as a prop to trip him up. He spends himself to heal all who were sick and treats them with such humility, such gentleness, such love that he doesn’t break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick among them.
Thursday, March 12, 2020 email@example.com
Matthew 12: 9 – 14
Jesus has another encounter with the Pharisees, this time not in a grain field but in the synagogue. The Pharisees had just confronted Jesus about his disciples picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Jesus responded by drawing their attention back to Scripture to show them there were occasions when their strict interpretations were not followed by some of their biblical heroes.
Having just named himself the Son of Man and the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus enters their local synagogue to worship and finds a long-suffering man with a shriveled hand waiting inside. Think about how much that man must have suffered with a shriveled, useless hand. Think of how he had to live his life under difficult conditions anyway worsened by the condition of his hand. Think of all the commentary he must have lived through regarding his sinfulness or the sinfulness of his parents because of his sinful man.
Now it seems he may have been planted there as a prop. Why does one enter a synagogue? I would say to worship. Jesus enters the synagogue to worship and is immediately confronted by the sight of this man with the shriveled hand and the Pharisees who ask Jesus if it is legal to heal on the Sabbath. By the way, one finds little sympathy or empathy in this setting or in their question.
I wonder if they had gone in one ear and out the other. I wonder if Jesus’ recent words to them about the Sabbath had even made it to their ears – “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” I am hard-pressed to find any mercy with them in this instance. Jesus reminds them that they have so constructed the law to work in their favor if one of their animals falls in a pit on the Sabbath but there seems to be no room for them to help another human being.
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice…” He reminds them that a human being is much more valuable than a farm animal, a sheep so that it is legal to do good on the Sabbath. So Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand which was completely restored. Instead of a moment of joy or worship over this miracle the Pharisees go out and plot how to kill Jesus.
Can you believe it? Why would they become so incensed of this miracle in their own synagogue? Is it because it happened on the Sabbath? Or was it because they were losing control? Was it because the box they had constructed with laws and traditions just was not capable of holding God at bay? I have to say that I can’t judge them too harshly because those moments when I have tried the same thing come flashing in my mind.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Matthew 12: 1 – 8
Jesus and the disciples are walking through a field and the disciples begin to pick grain and eat it. Because it was the Sabbath the disciples were judged and condemned by the Pharisees. I think the Pharisees somehow deep down meant well. I mean they wanted to be so obedient to the Law that they came up with all of these other laws and traditions to protect themselves from the Law.
But somehow in the process they developed a whole negativity toward the Law which reflected on God’s people as negative people. To my understanding it seems that more and more those who loved God were more about what they were not supposed to do than what they were actually supposed to do. We see that in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan when the priest and the Levite refuse to help the injured victim most likely because it would make them unclean.
Perhaps they were thinking more of what might happen to them than they thought about what might happen to the injured victim if they didn’t stop to help him. This seems to accurately characterize how the Pharisees saw the Law and others according to their view of the Law. The Sabbath doesn’t seem to me to be very enjoyable the way the Pharisees saw the Sabbath.
In this account I get the sense that the disciples were actually enjoying the Sabbath by walking through fields, picking and eating the grain. One can actually squeeze out some joy in the disciples in this account but they are quickly excoriated by the Pharisees for unlawfully breaking the Sabbath. Jesus responds by giving the Pharisees biblical examples of how David, his men and the priests had broken the Sabbath out of necessity but were not judged or punished.
He tells them that mercy is more important than sacrifice by quoting the Old Testament prophet Hosea and then declares himself as both the Son of Man and the Lord of the Sabbath. I get the sense from Jesus here that the Sabbath was intended for human beings to rest, re-create and worship in joyful leisure and exaltation but this had become impossible for the Pharisees.
How about us? Do we look forward to the Sabbath so that we can rest, re-create and worship in joyful leisure and exaltation? Do we even recognize Sunday or any other day as a day to rest, re-create and worship in joyful leisure and exaltation?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Matthew 11: 25 – 30
“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” (Matthew 11:25 – 26)
Here is one of nine prayers Scripture gives us that Jesus prayed while here on earth. Again, as in the prayer we commonly know as “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus addresses God out of their relationship. Jesus addresses God as Father and then recognizes his sovereignty as the Lord of heaven and earth. Jesus praises Him for hiding the mysterious truth of the gospel from the wise, the learned, and the powerful and instead reveals it to the weak, the humble, the least, the children.
We can glean from these two verses that God delights in the underdog; that God chooses to reveal himself through the weak, the humble, the powerless, the poor, the neglected as little children were definitely in all of those categories at that time in our history. What a GOD who demonstrates such love and grace for the lowest of the low!!!
Jesus then goes on to proclaim that only the Father knows the Son and only the Son knows the Father and that it is the Son’s job to reveal the Father to those the Son chooses. In his next breath Jesus cries out for all who are weary and burdened and exhausted and worn out to come to him for rest. Jesus invites them to take his yoke upon them as he declares himself to be gentle and humble in heart.
Through his life and words Jesus revealed the intimate intricacies of the Father through his gentleness, his humility, his obedience, his love. When Jesus declares that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, make no mistake he is talking about that yoke we bear because the yoke he bore was unimaginably daunting and heavy. After all, while carrying the yoke of the cross he bore upon himself the veritable weight of the world.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Monday, March 09, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 11: 20 – 24
“Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.’”
I would say many overlook these harsh words from Jesus or say he didn’t really say them or if he said them he didn’t really mean them. I mean this is a harsh call of judgment upon towns we barely know anything about unlike Tyre, Sidon and Sodom which have a lot of print in the Old Testament for their wickedness and their destruction because of their wickedness.
We don’t know anything about Chorazin at all from Scripture. We do know that Bethsaida hosted powerful miracles from Jesus. Capernaum not only experienced miracles but seemed to serve as the ad hoc headquarters for Jesus and his ministry. None of them seem to have the reputations for wickedness that Tyre, Sidon and Sodom possess yet Tyre, Sidon and Sodom are compared positively to these three towns that personally experienced the miraculous, personal, palpable, in-the-flesh presence of Jesus the Christ.
Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum actually, literally experienced the Christ, the Son of the Living GOD who performed powerful, amazing miracles there and refused to repent and believe that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Son of the Living GOD. Woe to them!
As I think about them I can’t think too harshly toward them because I wonder what words of woe can be said about each of our cities in today’s world. We have the full testimony of Scripture about Jesus. We have the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us. We have had the transforming power of the Church of Jesus Christ in our midst for almost two thousand years which has indeed transformed human life for the better in countless ways; regardless of what the world may say.
At the bare minimum we need to recognize how seriously Jesus took the lack of repentance of these three towns; how seriously took the Gospel. Have we done any better than Chorazin, Bethsaida or Capernaum in recognizing the Christ, the Son of the Living GOD, repenting and trusting fully in Him?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Saturday, March 7, 2020
Matthew 11: 7 – 19
As John’s disciples turn to leave, Jesus asks the crowd questions about John the Baptist. He uses each question to fortify his explanation that John the Baptist should be included among the echelon of prophets as he too joined in the prophetic circles and prophesied about the Messiah’s coming.
Jesus doesn’t just leave him in the crowd but elevates his status above that of all the other prophets because he was actually the one who came immediately before the Messiah to prepare the way for the Messiah. Jesus declares him the greatest of all human beings born of woman then in the next breath declares that the lowest in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.
Jesus seems to be making the point of differentiating between the time of the Law and the Prophets which was pointing to and leading directly to the arrival of the Kingdom of God with John’s proclamations about Jesus.
The Kingdom of God was now among them, right there in their midst through the Messiah Himself, Jesus. If they allow themselves to go there and accept that John is that Elijah who was to come. If John is indeed the forerunner of the Messiah, the Elijah that was to come; then Jesus (drumroll please) is unmistakably the long-awaited Messiah.
Jesus then turns his attention to the people themselves and notes how fickle they are in their expectations and judgments. They judged John as being demon-possessed because of the discipline by which he lived his life. All while judging Jesus as being a sinful glutton and drunkard, a friend of sinners because he ate and drank instead of fasting.
Jesus ends this section by reminding them to keep on watching because wisdom is ultimately revealed by deeds. I wonder though, in this ambience in which Jesus finds himself; will they truly be able to see from his deeds the ultimate revelation of his identity as the Son of the living God? Time will tell; time will tell. Will we?
Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Maranatha…
Friday, March 6, 2020
Matthew 11: 1 – 6
John probably didn’t expect it to turn out this way. I am not sure what his expectations were for the Messiah but it doesn’t seem like he anticipated spending quality time in prison. He made the bold proclamations about the Messiah. He declared himself as the man sent before him to prepare the way. He linked himself unmistakably to Elijah.
Crowds came from everywhere to see him; this wild man in the wilderness, this man wearing camel’s hair clothes, this man who ate locusts and wild honey, this man who called all Israel to repent of their sins. For a brief period it had been all about John and his water-works but now he finds himself alone in a prison cell – wondering…
It seems like as the Messiah’s forerunner that jail was the last place John anticipated visiting. It seems that as he sits in that jail cell, perhaps waiting for some miraculous escape, perhaps waiting for Jesus to lead an overthrow of the government; John begins to doubt. I mean after all, he is sitting in a prison cell basically waiting to die at the hands of Herod…
John hears about the deeds of the Messiah and sends disciples to question Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” He hears about the deeds of the Messiah and then sends to question him about those deeds. Did he want and need eyewitness proof of those deeds or could it be that these just weren’t the deeds John expected from the Messiah? Could it be that these just were not the deeds that John needed? Could it be that his expectations and preconceived notions were as far off as everyone else’s?
Jesus responds to John’s questions by succinctly saying, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” (Matthew 11:4-6).
Although not a direct quote from the prophecies of Isaiah it was certainly enough to jolt John’s memory of Isaiah’s earlier descriptions of the Messiah’s work and reassure him that all was well. For me it was as if Jesus sent John a note of encouragement in jail not to give up but to trust in him from the very pages of Isaiah which John surely knew by heart.
But if even John the Baptist who had witnessed that white dove descending from heaven upon Jesus and had overheard God’s words about Jesus and knew that he shouldn’t baptize him could doubt; Jesus had his work cut out for him. As I look around me today it looks like he still does…
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Thursday, March 5, 2020 email@example.com
Matthew 10: 40 – 42
“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
After wandering a bit to later times prophecy and harsh words of warning which penetrate deeply, it seems like Jesus has returned to the task at hand. He tells the disciples that as they wander from town to town that anyone who welcomes them as his disciples in actuality welcomes him as their leader. And even more than that, he tells them that whoever welcomes him in ultimate reality is welcoming the One who sent him which is the Father.
Wow! So, that is a stirring reminder to the disciples and perhaps to us all about who we represent as the followers of Jesus. We don’t just represent ourselves or our churches or our families or our countries but we represent Jesus. We represent Jesus so much so that when someone welcomes us and receives us with hospitality they are in actuality welcoming and receiving Jesus. It may well do us all great good to just meditate on that for a moment…
Can you fathom that? Can you grasp that as a follower of Jesus when someone welcomes us they are welcoming Him? Even more than that they are also welcoming the Father? Uh, it just got hot in here. What an incredible, glorious gift but at the same time what an enormous responsibility to both the one who welcomes and the welcomed.
As we walk through our lives does it ever occur to us Who we represent? As we walk through our lives does it ever occur to us Who we welcome? And honestly, when we give a stranger or a neighbor or a family member or a friend a cup of cold water do we ever really weigh the significance?
I don’t know about you but I endeavor to walk with more intentionality, with more surrender, with more humility, with more of the Holy Spirit than ever before. I represent the Son. I represent the Father. Anyone need a cup of cold, refreshing water?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Matthew 10: 34 – 39
Suddenly or maybe not so suddenly, Jesus’ words become very focused and personal. Suddenly it begins to dawn that these aren’t just marching orders or words of warning for what might be out there somewhere. Jesus words surely must have cut right to the quick of the disciples as they cut right to the quick of our own hearts.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did no come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me…” (Matthew 10: 34 – 38)
Uh, don’t look now but these words of Jesus plumb to the very heart of the matter as they plumb to the very depths of our hearts. These are more than difficult words to hear, to read. These words cut against the grain. I tremble as I see these words. I quake as I read them. And I have to kneel as I take them to heart.
We are to love Jesus with all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our strength and all of our minds. We are to love Jesus with all of our beings. Love and loyalty to Jesus must surpass the love and loyalty to all others in our lives. Wow!
To be honest I find in my own life that if I don’t keep my relationship with Jesus in proper perspective; if I don’t love Jesus above all then I am not really loving those other “most-loved” people in my life. Love and loyalty to Jesus must supersede all other.
I know that makes us uncomfortable. You may even squirm in your seats as you read Jesus’ words. For me in recent days it speaks of Jesus’ conversation with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi when he asked them “who they say that I am?” and then turned them on their heads by asking “who do you say that I am?”
Friends, it will always come down to that question – “Who do we say that Jesus is?” and if we say Jesus is our Lord, our Savior, our Master then does our love day in and day out prove that He is who we say He is?
Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living GOD, have mercy on me a sinner…
Tuesday, March 03, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 10: 21 – 33
It is very clear here to me that Jesus is not sending his disciples out on a pleasure cruise or a picnic. He also does not sugarcoat what they will discover in representing Him on this earth. Not only does he give them marching orders but even more he tells them what they can expect as his disciples, as his followers, as his representatives in the world.
Now, his words of warning here seem to pertain more to after Jesus has died, resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven than at this particular moment in his present ministry. We just don’t hear of these things particularly happening while Jesus was with the disciples on earth but they did happen eventually.
I will be honest; I don’t really like to read these verses because they are hard to read. It is hard to read about families being torn apart because of Jesus. And yet I know it happens. I have friends I have been honored to meet over the years whose families disowned them when they submitted their lives to Jesus Christ. And those aren’t just friends who grew up in other countries, in other religions; but many of them grew up right here with you and me.
Jesus warns the disciples that the student is not above the teacher. If the teacher will be mistreated and abused; if terrible things are said about the teacher; if the teacher is said to be from the devil rather from the Father, then the students, the followers, the disciples shouldn’t expect anything else. The followers will also receive the same abuse and mistreatment as their Teacher, as their Leader. Jesus was treated despicably and crucified, should we expect anything less?
But in the midst of these marching orders, in the midst of these words of warning there is hope. Throughout Jesus calls on them to stand firm; Jesus tells them that at those all-important moments to know that the Father’s Spirit will speak through them. Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid because everything will one day be brought out in to the open and displayed to all.
Jesus tells them not to be afraid of anyone except for the One who has power to destroy both body and soul which is that very Father who sends His Spirit to lead and guide and speak through them. He further reminds them that this Father cares for the sparrows who are worth a dime a dozen and knows all about them and His care is much more thorough and complete for His children.
Jesus ends this section with words of hope when he calls the disciples to stand firm for Him and He will stand firm for them but if they disown Him he will have to disown them. Ouch! May we stand firm together forever in Him.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Monday, March 02, 2020 email@example.com
Matthew 10: 16 – 20
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
In December of 1984 the secretary of our church handed me an application for a mission trip. Looking at the application with interest and excitement I soon felt that excitement drain from me as I saw the mission team was going to Mexico.
I didn’t want to go to Mexico. I had grown up on Westerns and for the most part, Mexicans were not portrayed too positively. I had no desire to go to Mexico. However, as I held that application in my hand it seemed to start a fire that roared from my fingertips to my heart. I filled out the application and was accepted on the team.
Most of that spring was spent praying, learning Spanish, reading travel guides and raising funds for the trip. Excitement grew within me but I was still tentative in my heart. I mean, so many well-meaning folks told me so many negative things about the Mexicans that my feet began to grow cold. The cold of my frigid feet began seeping and squirming its way into my heart.
My family went on vacation the week before I was to leave; I found myself alone with my fears in an empty house. One night I watched a bad movie which again presented the Mexicans as negatively as can be imagined. Dripping with fear, I literally began to consider skipping the trip. I kept praying and due to already committing myself to this trip and enlisting so many people in helping me get there, I reluctantly traveled to Mexico.
After five minutes in the Mexico City Airport I realized that all I had learned previously about Mexico was a lie. GOD changed my heart, my life, my destiny on that trip I almost skipped. His grace was sufficient!!! Hallelujah!
I have to be honest here. Going on mission for Jesus Christ is not easy. Going on mission for Jesus Christ is not a pleasure cruise. Going on mission for Jesus Christ is not safe. Going on mission for Jesus Christ is difficult and dangerous but by marching orders here in His word and in my personal experience, the grace and presence of Jesus Christ is sufficient and able to work through us to transform the world as we take the risk in faith to be obedient and submissive to Him.
I am so glad I went on that trip. Thank you, Jesus!
aturday, February 29, 2020
Matthew 10: 9 – 15
Jesus continues to give the disciples marching orders as they prepare to leave him and go out into the world on their own to proclaim the message of the kingdom come near through words, signs and wonders.
They are not to weigh themselves down with a lot of baggage; no extra clothes, not even a carry-on. They are not to load themselves down with gold or silver or copper or credit cards or “Traveler’s Cheques.” That’s a blast from the past, isn’t it? Something that used to be so essential for travel doesn’t even exist anymore, does it?
The disciples are sent out seemingly without back-up. From the start Jesus is training them to trust that GOD will provide for them; not that they need to depend on themselves or their preparation but to trust GOD. Even with their overnight accommodations Jesus tells them not to call ahead to make reservations or use “Expedia” even but to search there for a worthy person to stay with them.
What do you think? If arriving at a new town to stay for a few days, where would you go to find a worthy person? More than that, what characteristics would you look for to define such a worthy person? Before nightfall how could we locate such a worthy person to bunk with?
I have a hunch that the disciples probably headed for the synagogue or the local meeting place for those who sought after GOD. That should have been where they could find worthy people, people who perhaps lived more like they did in accordance with their Jewish beliefs.
How about us? I have to say that I would probably head for the nearest United Methodist Church. Can you imagine walking into the office unannounced, catching the over-worked secretary off-guard and telling her you are looking for a place to stay? In the world in which we live today, with all the liability concerns and dangers lurking out there, we would probably have a hard time finding a place to stay.
But, in my experience, when I lived and worked with the Methodist Church in Mexico, there were many times when we would show up at churches unannounced because there was no way to announce our arrival with a text or an email or a phone call as we visited local churches.
It thrills my soul to think of the many occasions when we arrived unannounced to be immediately greeted and welcomed into folks’ homes for meals, for fellowship, and sometimes, for overnight accommodations. The hospitality and generosity I encountered in Mexico more than thirty years ago continues to bless and inspire me.
So, I guess my question to us today is how can we return to a time where we are available to host the stranger unannounced and how can we begin to find those worthy people to seek out for their bold hospitality and radical generosity?
Friday, February 28, 2020
Matthew 10: 5 – 8
Jesus and the disciples clearly saw the great need around them which was described earlier as “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). He told the disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more laborers in the harvest, next he called the disciples to him, gave them authority to cast out demons and heal the sick, and then sent them out as laborers for the harvest.
Here he gives them their marching orders to focus solely on the lost “sheep” of Israel to proclaim the message – “The kingdom of heaven has come near you” (Matthew 10:&) – and they are ordered to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Matthew 10:8).
They are sent out to engage the Jewish public with the auditory truth that the kingdom of heaven has come near through Jesus Christ and they are to publicly, palpably, authentically demonstrate that not just with their words but by bringing the healing power of heaven, the healing power of the kingdom of God, right there among them through healing, resurrection, demon-demolishing power! Hallelujah!
He adds that “freely you have received; freely give” to close out these initial orders. He reminds them in reality that they have not been given this power and this authority which must cause those ‘gates of hell” to shake and quake to keep and horde or get rich on but they are to give it away freely, no holds barred.
Have you ever been given something that you cherish? When you have given something that means the world to you what are you tempted to do with it? I know that when I have been given something extremely valuable I am tempted to hold on to it, to hide it, to protect it at all costs or use it for my own gain.
Jesus had just given the disciples what they had been longing for – to teach and preach and heal and cast out demons and even raise the dead like he could do. I wonder if they were tempted to hide it or horde it or charge for it. I wonder if they were tempted to get rich on these awesome gifts which were intentionally given to them for the real benefit of others. Hmmm?
Sometimes in this world material gain and worldly wealth seem to be all that matters to people. And sometimes those who have been given much seem to be tempted to hold on to it or charge for it or make people jump through hoops just right to receive it; uh-oh.
Whether or not the disciples had such thoughts Jesus told them from the start that these amazing gifts they were given were not to be hoarded or hidden or charged for but were to be given out freely with open hands not closed fists.
Thursday, February 27, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 9: 37 – 10:5
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9: 37 – 38)
We saw yesterday that Jesus and his disciples are on the move. Jesus is teaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Jesus is healing all who are sick and diseased. He looks out and sees the restless, lost crowd, compares them to sheep without a shepherd and has compassion on them. Hallelujah!
He then tells his disciples as they look out on this helpless, harassed crowd that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. He tells them to ask the Lord of the harvest to raise up and send out workers to the harvest.
Here comes a long, protracted hmmmm – Hmmmm? Jesus is the One all things on heaven and earth were created by, for and through. Jesus can do anything he sets his mind to do. Jesus is life. Jesus created life and breath. Jesus conquered death for our sakes. Jesus is amazing and yet; and yet, he has chosen intentionally to involve us in his work of teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and healing.
Jesus didn’t need us I mean he can do it all, right? But he chose us to work with him in the harvest. He tells the disciples here to ask the Lord of the harvest, which in my mind, he is instructing them to pray that the Lord will raise up and send out workers to co-labor with Christ in the harvest.
And guess what? Be careful what you ask for because it seems like the disciples become the answers to their own prayers for in the very next verse we see Jesus calling his disciples to him and giving them authority to drive out impure spirits to heal every disease and illness. Then, he sends them out into the harvest; all twelve of them.
“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out…” (Matthew 10:2 – 4)
Have you prayed to the Lord to raise up and send out any laborers for the harvest lately? You may be next…
Wednesday, February 26, 2020 email@example.com
Matthew 9: 35 – 36
Jesus and the disciples are on the move. While on the move Jesus continues to teach and proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God all while healing all who are sick. One of my favorite biblical phrases is that which follows in 9:36: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been part of the harassed and helpless crowd? Have you ever been there when you just didn’t know where to turn; like when a wolf is chasing sheep all around to separate, scatter and devour them?
Have you ever been there when you wanted to help yourself but you just knew there was nothing left that you could do to help yourself? Have you ever been there when you reached the point of helplessness? Have you been there when you knew you needed help?
I have good news for all of us who have found ourselves harassed and helpless, under ferocious attack even. There is One who sees. There is One who sees and has compassion on us because we are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. There is One who sees because He loves. Now that is GOOD NEWS!!!
Tuesday, February 25, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 9: 27 – 34
So, two blind men approach Jesus, identify him as the “Son of David” which certainly has Messianic undertones and ask him to have mercy on them. They follow him indoors and he asks them if they believe he is able to do this – heal them, give them sight. They respond “Yes, Lord,” without batting a blind eyelash or even having to think about.
They believe in Jesus. They have already identified him as the “Son of David” so certainly have some kind of Messianic hope in him. They ask for mercy and are confident that Jesus is able to give them the mercy they need; their eyesight!
Jesus touches their eyes and says, “According to your faith let it be done to you” and miracle of miracles, they can both see. Unfortunately over the years this sentence has been twisted and used against folks who have sought out miracles and the miracles they sought out just didn’t happen for whatever reason.
Thus, people have been blamed because of their lack of faith but here in this case, these men had already affirmed their faith in Jesus. He was working off of their pre-recorded affirmation and demonstration of their faith in him. These are words of blessing and should always be words of blessing not to blame or guilt or diminish another.
He tells them not to tell anyone and quite frankly I am not sure why he told them not to tell anyone. Maybe by them telling others the crowds around he and his disciples would grow to unmanageable levels; maybe he wanted to be judged as the Messiah by measures other than miracles; maybe he was just demonstrating living out powerful, unselfish faith by doing things for others without expecting anything in return, even public acclaim.
Regardless the formerly blind men just cannot keep this glorious, revealing news to themselves. They just have to tell somebody. They just have to tell everybody. I mean that’s what we do with good news, isn’t it? We have to tell somebody; we have to tell everybody. It is as if good, glorious news about Jesus just burns through us and we have to share it or at least we should, shouldn’t we?
These two can’t keep the news to themselves and others hear the good news and bring a demon-possessed, mute friend to Jesus who casts out the demon apparently without asking anyone anything. The demon flees, the man speaks, and the crowds are amazed glorifying Jesus in his uniqueness.
Well, not everyone. The Pharisees aren’t impressed and connect his power to heal with demonic powers. Really? Did they just choose not to see? So in this whole story, who are the true blind ones but the ones who insist on not seeing?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Monday, February 24, 2020 email@example.com
Matthew 9: 18 – 26
Have you ever thought about how this father must have felt about this woman rudely intruding on his desperation? I don’t know about you but not only would I have been unimaginably impatient but downright nasty to bump this unclean woman out of the way so Jesus could get to my daughter as quickly as possible. I mean she was bleeding, she was unclean and his precious daughter was dead!
You eventually arrive at home and discover that in your absence your community has gathered to properly mourn your daughter’s death. For these well-meaning folks there was only one option. When the child of your leader dies you gather to properly mourn her with all the bells and whistles. That’s just what you do. But for this father, he knew there was something else; he knew there was Someone else who had finally arrived on the scene.
Still having only one option the mourners laugh when Jesus tells them the little girl is not dead. We aren’t told here but I imagine that authority everyone talked about was quickly demonstrated here and the mourners were put outside. I have a hunch they rushed outside to escape holy fury. Jesus took the dead girl by the hand and raised her to life.
Can you imagine being that father? Can you imagine all he experienced that day? Can you imagine his faith? He knew Jesus could raise his daughter from death. He seemed to be absolutely sure that Jesus could conquer the death in his daughter. He was right.
How about his daughter? I wonder how she lived the rest of her life. What was it like when she died? What must it have been like when Jesus touched her hand and restored her to life?
I have met several people over the years who have actually died and lived to tell about it. A day after my dad had a massive heart attack his heart stopped and he died. He awoke with a beautiful nurse on top of him beating the life back in to him. He didn’t really have one of those memorable near death experiences although he thought she was an angel…
Dad didn’t really talk much about that experience but he had already lived through a difficult childhood, the Pacific Theatre in World War II as a marine participating in several island invasions and a normal life of sin. When my dad met Jesus, really met Jesus long before his heart attack; he was so transformed he lived the rest of his life as if he had died and then lived to tell about it.
How are we living our lives? Do we live our lives as if we died then lived to tell about it? As the Apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Amen? Amen! Hallelujah!
Saturday, February 22, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 9: 18 – 26
You are a prominent member of the community. You are a leader in the synagogue. You are also a parent and your daughter is terribly sick. You have tried everything to make her better. You have exhausted your efforts and your finances to get her the very best medical care without any success. Your daughter is still sick on the verge of death.
You have heard about Jesus. You have heard about his authoritative preaching. You have heard rumors that he has the ability to heal the sick. As desperate as you are to help your daughter Jesus has become problematic. You have heard those conversations in the committee meetings at your synagogue about Jesus and there seem to be battle lines drawn against him.
However, your daughter is sick; I mean, desperately, dangerously sick. What would you do? Would you risk your standing in your community; would you risk your standing as a leader in the synagogue to go and approach Jesus for help? This parent did but by the time he made it to Jesus his precious daughter had succumbed to death.
Some of you reading this may already know from personal experience the pain, the agony, the desperation, the heartache, the anger this father is experiencing. Yet, when he finds Jesus he says, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live” (Matthew 9:18).
Jesus and his disciples get up and go with this crestfallen, heartbroken yet hopeful father. As they weave their way through the gathering crowd they are interrupted by a bleeding woman. Jesus is detained by this woman; this un-named woman who had been bleeding for twelve years; this un-named women who had been unclean for twelve long, interminable years.
She must have overheard Jesus’ conversation with this grief-stricken father. She must have known time was of the essence. She must have known that Jesus’ attention was elsewhere. She must have known that the surging crowd had blocked Jesus from her. But she was desperate. She was bleeding. She was unclean.
She pushed her way boldly through the crowd to get next to Jesus but apparently she didn’t want to disturb him so in faith she reached out and touched him. She was instantly healed without Jesus even doing anything to her. She touched him by that touch of faith. She stopped bleeding. She was clean. Have you touched Jesus lately? Have you been desperate enough to touch Jesus lately?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Friday, February 21, 2020 email@example.com
Matthew 9: 16 – 17
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
For our purposes here I have separated this above passage from Jesus’ initial response to the disciples of John who questioned him about fasting. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that Matthew, Mark and Luke all have these verses directly connected to the question from John’s disciples thus they are directly related and connected in some way.
I suppose Jesus may be responding to their comparison by making one of his own between old ways and new ways. Some scholars believe Jesus may be throwing shade at the old practices of Judaism although I seem to remember Jesus saying that he didn’t come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them.
I wonder if Jesus was referring to his disciples who perhaps weren’t there yet to the place where they could fast although most if not all of them would have certainly been familiar with the practice of fasting from their childhood.
Perhaps Jesus has taken the opportunity once again to go deeper and take everyone else deeper with him. Perhaps he is pointing out to them that it isn’t really about the practice but the faith behind the practice.
I know about patches on garments. I would say there for a time in elementary school that I was the world’s expert on patches. You see, I was always playing on my knees or falling and consistently tore holes in my pants, even those thick, durable jeans made by Levi Strauss. Dad told me once as Mom patched my jeans once again that “I would wear out an iron anvil” so I know all about patches on jeans.
I also know about new patches on old garments tearing away or being torn away by ever-moving, ever-anxious hands because they just didn’t fit right. I am no expert on wine but do know that old wineskins that have already served their purposes become brittle and burst if new wine is poured into them.
I wonder if by using these two illustrations Jesus is teaching us that regarding relationship with Him we have to become new and the only way to become new is by trusting in Him absolutely. Only His grace by His Spirit can make us new through submission and surrender to Him. Amen? Amen!
Thursday, February 20, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 9: 14 – 15
Did you ever notice that almost always when we compare ourselves with others that judgment ensues? I find that when I compare myself to someone else even innocently with no apparent evil intent that I either end up judging myself harshly or judging the other person even more harshly.
In this passage we are still early in Jesus’ ministry so there are a lot of raging questions about him from all sides. Here we find followers of John comparing themselves and the Pharisees with Jesus and his disciples. A disciple would be want to protect and defend the one he follows so I get it that the disciples of John are protective, sensitive and perhaps a bit paranoid as they see diminishing crowds around their man while huge crowds follow Jesus.
We will find out soon enough that even John who made such bold declarations about the coming Messiah and who linked those declarations directly to Jesus and even knew he was unworthy to baptize Jesus or untie his sandals and who even witnessed the dove descend upon Jesus and heard the Father’s words of affection for Jesus later had great doubts if Jesus really was the Messiah.
But now it is John’s disciples who have noticed a discrepancy in the way Jesus leads his disciples. They do not fast as John’s disciples fast or even as the Pharisees fast. I wonder if this was an intentional low-blow, comparing Jesus and his disciples negatively to the Pharisees but I wander. Nevertheless the comparison has been made amidst judgmental overtones and perhaps undertones as well.
Jesus however uses wedding imagery to describe his relationship with his disciples and explains that as long as the bridegroom is with the wedding guests that it is a time to feast and celebrate not fast. But that once the bridegroom is taken away from them then they will fast in mourning. This seems to me to be a clear inference to Jesus’ impending betrayal, denial, arrest and crucifixion here but I am biased.
This passage reminds me of the way the Gospel of John ends with Jesus reinstating Peter and telling him that when he is older people will lead him by the hand to a place he doesn’t want to go which again is most likely referring to Peter’s death when Peter looks at John and asks, “What about him?” We all seem to be so prone to compare ourselves with others but do you remember how Jesus responded to Peter in John 21:22? “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
It isn’t about comparing or judging; it is all about us following Jesus. Amen? Amen!
Wednesday, February 19, 2020 email@example.com
Matthew 9: 9-13
Among an unlikely list of the last people you would ever expect Jesus to choose as one of his inner circle, Matthew is certainly the most unlikely. A tax collector who would have been considered as a traitor to Israel, a conspirator with the Romans, a thief, a scumbag, lower than low, Matthew was minding his own business collecting his taxes when Jesus called.
We don’t know if they had met before. We don’t know if Matthew had heard Jesus teach. We don’t know if Matthew had seen Jesus heal. What we do know is that he seems to be minding his own business (collecting taxes) when Jesus walked by and called him by saying, “Follow me.” It seems to be that this was a drive-by calling. I wonder if Jesus even stopped when he walked by.
Regardless, Matthew jumped up leaving all behind and followed Jesus. While following Jesus Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to dine with Matthew and all of his friends characterized here as “many tax collectors and sinners.” Why no self-respecting righteous person would have been found anywhere near this group yet Jesus was there right in the middle.
When challenged why he was hanging out with the sinners and the disreputable and the downright nasty people, Jesus pointed out that it is the sick who need the doctor, God desires mercy over sacrifice and he came to call the sinners rather than the righteous.
A couple of things here; if anyone had forfeited the right to be a follower of Jesus most would have pointed to Matthew with wicked assurance. Yet Jesus called Matthew right out of the mess of his life. Matthew didn’t even have a chance to clean himself up and at least look presentable before Jesus called him. This teaches me that Jesus can call anyone at any time. Are you ready? Am I?
Something else that has always bothered me; who is it that declares us healthy? Can we declare ourselves healthy or sinless? I have a hunch that we cannot. Only Jesus, the Great Physician, can declare us healthy or clean. Were there really people living in that day who did not need Jesus?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Tuesday, February 18, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 9: 1 – 8
In his powerful sermon we commonly know as “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus seemed to raise the bar on sin by linking thought, action, and attitude; lifting the bar of holy living way beyond human capability. We saw Jesus begin to turn up the heat a bit in the last chapter in calling people to sacrificial discipleship. This wasn’t just some magic show…
Here, Jesus seemingly turns up the heat on himself as he links healing and forgiveness in an undeniable way. A paralyzed man was brought to him and laid down before him. The test says that when “Jesus saw their faith,” referring to the man’s friends he then turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
Let’s look at a couple of points here. Did you notice that the text says that when Jesus saw their faith? It seems that this refers to the men who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing. No commentary is made here on the faith of the paralyzed man but on those who brought him to Jesus. This is a powerful word to those of us who pray for others. It just may be to us that Jesus looks; it just may be that to our faith Jesus examines. Wow!
I don’t know what all the implications here are for us but I do know that just considering this simple phrase causes my heart to beat much more rapidly and perhaps a bit erratically. Wow! We who bring others to Jesus either directly or through prayer have the great responsibility to believe… Wow! Simply, wow!
Knowing that he would cause controversy here Jesus talks about forgiveness before even mentioning healing and he does it purposefully even though some listening accused him of blasphemy. After all, only GOD can forgive sins, correct???
Therefore Jesus is revealing more of himself to those around him. Jesus wants to prove to those around him that he has the authority to forgive sins and he does that by first linking the authority both to heal and forgive. He then powerfully confirms that connecting authority by healing the paralyzed man with these words: “Get up, take your mat and go home.”
I picture that paralyzed man; excuse me, formerly paralyzed man; jumping up at the sound of Jesus’ voice with strong legs, picking up that mat, marveling that his arms and legs and hands worked so well, threw that mat over his shoulder and ran and jumped and danced his way home.
Everyone marveled that GOD had given such authority to man. Maybe, just maybe this ordinary man may be more than an ordinary man. Amen? Amen!
Monday, February 17, 2020 email@example.com
Matthew 8: 28 – 34
“…Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.” (Matthew 8: 33 – 34)
I am moved by the sad scene described here. Two human beings are possessed by multiple demons. Their joint lives are abjectly miserable and hopeless. Isolated by their violent plight they are left alone among the dead. Recognizing the identity of Jesus from a distance they speak to Him with fear and ask him to let them go into the massive herd of pigs.
Jesus sends them out and spectacle ensues. The demons possess the pigs which immediately rush into the waters and are drowned. Think about that for a moment. Pigs can’t fly. Pigs can apparently swim but these die in the water; maybe it was that mad rush down the steep embankment; maybe it was the presence of evil within them.
It was a messy, chaotic, catastrophic scene. News reaches the nearest town that Jesus had healed the demon-possessed men and the demons entered the pigs which drowned. Matthew doesn’t give us much information here. He simply tells us that the townspeople went out to see for themselves what had happened. Seeing Jesus, they begged him to leave them alone.
“And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region” (Matthew 8:34).
I am confused here. They come out and see Jesus. Mark and Luke tell us that they also saw the formerly demon-possessed man dressed and calmly sitting at Jesus’ feet. Something amazingly marvelous happened here! They also saw all those dead pigs.
Why would they ask Jesus to leave? They knew all about the demon-possessed men – their lives of horror, torture, isolation, devastation, dissipation, agony. Jesus had brought them peace and safety and sanity and holiness and life.
Why ask him to leave their area? Did they prefer the status quo? As long as they weren’t the ones possessed by demons it was okay? Were they more concerned about their financial loss than the healing of their two citizens? Did they know that Jesus was holy and they were not? Were they just afraid?
More than bewilderment here I am left with deep sadness. Think of what they missed out on by inviting Jesus to leave them. Imagine what could have been…
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy on us all!
Saturday, February 15, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 8: 23 – 27
“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’”
Let’s put ourselves in the boat with the disciples. What do we see? What do we hear? What do we feel? What do we taste? What do we touch?
Do you see the suddenly dark clouds? Do you see the waves begin to rise and rock the boat? Do you feel the raindrops on your face? Do you feel the water sloshing over the sides soaking you and swamping the boat? Do you hear the wailing of the wind? Do you hear the wailing of the disciples? Do you hear yourself scream?
Then you look at Jesus and he’s, well, he’s asleep. How do you feel? What do you do? What do you say?
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been there when everything is going incredibly well, perfect even and then suddenly everything changes like a hurricane? We get that phone call which tells us a loved one unexpectedly died overnight. We get the bank notice that we are overdrawn. The silence is interrupted by the dinging of the “check engine light” as the car shudders to a stop on the roadside.
The storms of life appear on the horizon without a moment’s notice. Before we notice our boats are swamped and going down. How do we react? Do we cry out in fear and anger and doubt? I will be honest, that last sentence seems way too familiar to me.
Or do we know that the One who slept soundly, peacefully in the midst of the storm because he is the Master of the storm is right here beside us. I have a hunch Jesus slept because he trusted; Jesus slept because he knew who he was; Jesus slept because he knew where he had come from; Jesus slept because he knew where he was going. Jesus slept because he trusted.
Do we trust enough to rest safe and sound even when the world turns upside down?
Friday, February 14, 2020 email@example.com
Matthew 5: 18 – 22
I remember watching a movie on General Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II when I was about sixteen or so. There was a scene where General Eisenhower visited the troops who would be invading Normandy the next day. All of those soldiers surrounded their hero and began chanting his name: “Dwight! Dwight! Dwight!” I, of course, started to cry quite profoundly. My dad turned to my mother and said something like this, “My God Alice, look at him. He’ll probably join the Army tomorrow…”
I was definitely caught up in the moment and honestly probably would have joined the Army at that moment. I wonder if that is what happened here with the teacher of the law and Jesus. The teacher of the law had probably listened to Jesus speak with soul-searing authority and then watched him heal the sick and cast out demons. He knew he was around greatness. Without weighing the costs he jumped right in with Jesus.
Jesus, perhaps offering the teacher of the law a greatly needed reality check told him that birds have nests and foxes have holes but Jesus didn’t even have a pillow to rest at night. I would say these words from Jesus chased those illusions of grandeur, those visions of dancing sugar plums right out of the teacher’s pillowed head. We don’t know how he ultimately responded to Jesus…
Another disciple responding to Jesus tells him that he needs to go home and bury his father which is of course a noble thought. We don’t know exactly what this disciple is responding to but it seems he is being proactive in making excuses for not following Jesus.
Most scholars believe that this disciple’s dad wasn’t dead nor was he near death but he was simply using this as a delay tactic in following Jesus; perhaps forever. Jesus simply tells this disciple to follow Him and let the dead bury the dead – another heart-wrenching, heart-revealing reality check which certainly buried the call deeply.
How about us? What is holding us back from following Jesus? Does the thought of poverty or wealth or abundance or scarcity or convenience or inconvenience or family concerns or fantasy possibilities or whatever keep us from fully following Jesus no holds barred?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Thursday, February 13, 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 8: 14 – 17
“When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
Jesus arrives as a guest at Peter’s house and discovers Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed. He walks over, touches her hand and the fever flees from her. She immediately jumps up out of bed and begins to wait on Jesus as any good hostess would want to do, particularly a hostess who has just been healed!
She is sick, Jesus heals her and her immediate response of gratitude is to jump up out of bed and serve Him. We don’t know how long she has been sick in bed. We don’t know how long she has suffered with this fever. Fevers can really drain us. Fevers represent a biological attack on our bodies and our bodies are responding by fighting back. Jesus took the fight for her. She was so grateful; she jumped up and started serving him. How do we respond to Jesus’ goodness and grace in our lives?
This next scene has always been pretty spooky to me. As far as I know there were not many street lights two thousand years ago. I imagine that when night fell it became dark, darker than many of us have ever experienced. I mean there were certainly lanterns of some type and fires but no electric lights, no street lights, no night lights, no flash lights, “no claps on,” and “no claps off.” It was dark!
In the descending darkness we are told that many who were demon-possessed were brought to him. This must have been a loud, chaotic, cacophony of shrieking, screaming, taunting and misery. I can see Jesus in the midst of that out-of-control chaos calmly speaking healing and release and control into this scene. With an authority that didn’t depend on the loudness of his voice, Jesus powerfully cast out the demons and brought healing and wholeness to them all – bringing eternal light to the darkness.
Matthew sees this as a fulfillment of Messianic prophecy from Isaiah and not just some momentary cure which will soon wear off. Isaiah 53:4-5 says: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
I get the sense here that Jesus was doing more than medically healing but actually taking part of the curse of sin upon himself even before the cross. It seems as if Jesus took and carried our diseases for us and away from us long before the cross. Wow! Simply, WoW!!
Wednesday, February 12, 2020 Matthew 8: 5 – 13
What is more shocking here? What is more shocking: that a pagan, gentile centurion was aware of Jesus or that a pagan, gentile centurion approaches Jesus for help or that a pagan, gentile centurion cares so much about his servant that he goes out of his way to find him help from Jesus, an itinerant preacher?
This centurion turns out to be a man of deep compassion. He knew all about the affairs of his home; he knew all about his sick, suffering servant. He just didn’t know about him, he wanted to help him and he humbly asked Jesus for help.
Jesus, without blinking an eye, asked the centurion if he wanted him to come to his home to heal the paralyzed servant. The centurion tells him that wasn’t necessary. He explains that he is a man under authority and also wields authority over his servants and the soldiers under his command so that all Jesus needed to do was give the word and his servant would be healed.
Rather shocking isn’t it that the centurion recognized the innate authority of Jesus. Maybe he had heard him preach. Maybe he had seen him heal others. Regardless he recognized Jesus’ authority and ability to heal. He also recognized that Jesus was so powerful he didn’t even need to come and lay his hands on his servant. He saw in Jesus that all he needed to do was give the word. The centurion saw the truth in Jesus.
Jesus seems to be shocked here as well because he declares that he has not discovered such faith in all of Israel and uses this as an opportunity to teach those around him that people will come from all over, from far outside the borders of Israel to declare faith in Him. He also takes this opportunity to tell them that these outsiders, these pagans, these gentiles will take their rightful places at Abraham’s family table solely because they believe and the Jews who won’t believe will lose their seats at the table. Shocking!
But perhaps the last verse is the most shocking of all: “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” Wait a minute, what??? “Let it be done just as you believed it would.” Uh, don’t look now but that seems to suggest that our belief, our faith, our imaginative faith matters.
Uh, what do you believe will happen? You know what? I am tired of my mamby, pampy, whimpering faith. I want to believe! I am a believer! In Jesus, even the sky is not the limit. “Let it be done just as you believed it would.”
Bring it on. I believe!
Tuesday, February 11, 2020 Matthew 8: 1 – 4
Imagine this. You are fine. You live a normal life. You are married to a loving spouse and have several adoring children. One morning you awake and don’t pay much attention to it but you can’t feel your toes. You go to work and do what you always do but soon realize that over the last several days that loss of feeling seems to have creeped through your feet and into your legs. Even your fingers have grown numb and it becomes harder and harder to do those normal tasks you have always taken for granted because you could.
Afraid to say anything because you fear the worst, you finally let it be known that you are completely numb and senseless, without feeling. You hold it in as long as you can but concern that your numbness may be contagious causes you to let your family know. Soon, your neighbors know. The religious authorities find out and make you leave your home, your family, your community. If the loneliness and isolation isn’t enough you also have to shout out, “Unclean, unclean!” if anyone approaches you.
Long before the “rotting” of your flesh appears you feel it on the inside. Long before you shouted “Unclean!” you already felt it deep inside, deeper than your bones. You know that you are unclean. I mean, you must be right? Otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten this dreaded disease.
At first your family members come and look for you in the isolated, wild, dirty places but days stretch into weeks and weeks into months and months into years. You see friendly faces less and less as your condition worsens and your need for companionship deepens. If the uncleanness and the rottenness aren’t enough, being forgotten is the worst; you soon lose hope.
Then one day you hear of a man who preaches in a powerful, authoritative way that no-one had ever heard before. More than that, you hear rumors that he heals people. You take the risk to draw near to him all the while shouting “Unclean!” When you see Him you can tell there is just something special about Him. You can tell that maybe, just maybe, he can give you something more than mere fantasy. You tell Him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Never expecting this, he reaches out his hand to touch you while saying, “I am willing, be clean!” Immediately, before you notice the restoration of your skin or the feeling in your toes you feel it in your heart. You are clean! You are whole! You have been touched by the Master’s hand; a simple touch on your arm resonates to your heart and your heart is just about to burst. He tells you not to say anything to anyone but you just have to, don’t you?
“I have been touched by the Master’s hand! I am clean! I am whole! I am loved!”
Monday, February 10, 2020 Matthew 7: 24 – 29
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his home on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7: 24 – 27; NIV)
Growing up in West Virginia I often times had to work out in the yard gardening or weeding and was always amazed at the number of rocks I ran in to without fail. There were rocks everywhere and seemed to multiply year by year!
In Mexico as I worked on mission teams we would often have to dig trenches and footers for foundations and also ran in to a lot of rock. In Coconut Grove I once tried to dig a shallow grave for a beloved guinea pig and couldn’t because of the coral ridge running through that area. It became a much shallower grave than I intended…
I have also had to dig in sand which is so much easier and quicker and less taxing on the hands. One could say, actually I will say that digging in sand is actually fun! As a matter of fact I would choose to dig in sand all the time if I could which just may be a metaphor here for living out Jesus’ sermon. Digging in sand is certainly easier but not necessarily better.
Jesus compares obedient living to digging foundations on the rock which granted is hard work but solid work which withstands the storms and attacks of life. Jesus compares disobedient living to digging foundations in the sand which may be quicker and easier and more expedient and fun even but cannot withstand the storms and attacks of life. We get to choose where we dig our foundations. Where will you dig?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Saturday, February 8, 2020 Matthew 7: 21 – 23
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 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 in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
These words from Jesus are more than sobering, they are terrifying. Jesus has turned his attention from false prophets to false disciples; false disciples who seemingly don’t even know they are false disciples. How can this be?
Jesus says that not every person who calls Him Lord will enter God’s kingdom. He even goes on to say that there will be some who have prophesied in his name and driven out demons in his name and performed many miracles in his name who will not enter in to God’s kingdom.
I realize in the first case that we human beings talk a good game. We are adept at saying what we think others want to hear. We are adept at misleading others with our words. So, this could be what is going on here in this first example. They may call Jesus “Lord” but had never submitted themselves to Him in faith and trust so had never truly allowed Jesus to be the LORD of their lives. Busted…
In the second case Jesus offers I realize that there are any number of false prophets out there who purport to speak for GOD but the fulfillment of their prophecies and the fruit of their lives will ultimately reveal if they are real or not. If that litmus test of sincerity works for prophets then it works for us simple disciples as well.
But to actually perform miracles in Jesus’ name fraudulently throws me for a loop. How is that even possible? Perhaps GOD allows that to happen to bless those who need the miracle and to glorify His NAME in spite of the faithless one performing the miracles as Paul mentions in Philippians 1:12 – 18.
So, once again it comes down to the honest-to-God condition of our hearts. Have we fully submitted ourselves day in and day out, over and over again to Jesus Christ? Have we given ourselves fully in confession and repentance to Jesus Christ? Does the fruit of our lives reveal that submission, that giving?
I Corinthians 13:1-3 incessantly comes to mind as I write so I end with it here. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my boy to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Friday, February 7, 2020 Matthew 7: 15 – 20
Jesus warns here of false prophets. False prophets had long been a problem for Israel. Even as far back as the days of Moses there were false prophets. There were those who disagreed with Moses and called the people to return to Egypt. There were those who disagreed with Moses and called the people to worship a golden calf. There were those who made god in their own image.
Throughout Israel’s history there have been false prophets trying hard to lead the people astray away from the One True GOD. The prophets of Baal and Asherah in the days of Elijah held great influence among the nation, so much so that Elijah thought himself alone in the battle. He was not alone.
In the days of Jesus history reveals any number of “Messiahs” who came upon the scene to lead the people astray, away from their GOD. I mentioned in worship this past week of one such “messiah” who claimed extraordinary powers and called the people to join him at the Jordan River where he would step into the waters and they would immediately dry up so the people could walk across on dry land. Uh, it didn’t happen – he just got wet.
Another so-called “messiah” enticed thousands to follow him with the claim that at his voice the walls of Jerusalem would collapse. Uh, it didn’t happen – he just got hoarse.
What was Jesus’ solution to false prophets? He taught that we should pay close attention to their fruit, to the way they live their lives. Do their prophecies actually come true? This is certainly an enduring word for us now. The call for the followers of Christ to be holy is still in effect. We are to live holy lives. We are to be set apart to GOD. The fruit of our lives reveals who we truly are because the fruit of our lives reveals our hearts.
I remember once as a young man hearing a minister say he would burn his Bible if Jesus didn’t return in 1984. Jesus didn’t and as far as I know his Bible wasn’t burned but I never looked at him the same way ever again. As we say in West Virginia, “the proof is in the pudding.” Inspect the fruit of that prophet’s life. Is it good fruit or is it rotten? The fruit reveals the heart.
With the exponential explosion of the impact and influence of television and social media on our world I think it ever more important today to inspect the fruit of all who purport to speak for GOD, including yours truly. The fruit reveals the heart. The fruit reveals our hearts.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Thursday, February 06, 2020 0 Matthew 7: 12 – 14
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
I feel the need to include verse 12 here since I dashed by it yesterday without mentioning it. I mention it today because throughout this sermon Jesus has raised the bar on acceptable human behavior so much so that it seems impossible to attain. Quite frankly it is impossible for us to attain but through the glorious grace of GOD it was attained for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But with all this overwhelming information Jesus gives us a simple way to remember acceptable human behavior according to the Law and the Prophets and that is to treat others always by thought, word, deed and attitude as we would want them to treat us. Even more powerful for me as a parent is to treat others like I would have them treat my daughters.
We now come to these sobering words from Jesus about the narrow way to life and the broad road to destruction. The world exerts intense pressure on us to conform and give in. Our senses are assaulted on every side by the world’s call. The influence of culture and society seem to grow by leaps and bounds each day striving to supplant the Bible’s influence.
As I think about this contrast of the broad and narrow ways I imagine what the road signs would be for each. On the broad way to destruction we may see signs such as: “If it feels good, do it,” or “The one who has the most toys wins,” or “If everyone else is doing it, it must be right,” or “Go ahead and do it, no-one will ever know,” etc.
It is so easy to get caught up in all the glitz and glamour and go along but we who follow Christ are called to be different. The signs we see on the narrow road to life are: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23); or “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48); or “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28); or “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2).
Joshua laid it out to the Israelites this way thousands of years ago: “…then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)
As for me and my family, we will serve the LORD!
Wednesday, February 05, 2020 Matthew 7: 7 – 12
Ask, seek, knock; I confessed a couple of days ago that I started out in this world as a world champion worrier. I gladly relinquished that title as I grew in my relationship with Christ. Certainly I worry from time to time but I have learned just how pointless it is and instead choose to trust GOD day by day.
I follow the Apostle Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
As I think back on my early years I see this big, clumsy kid sitting on the sidelines wishing he could join the fray but instead watching his friends from a safe distance have an awesome time. There was just something about asking, seeking and knocking that stymied this big kid. He couldn’t even ask if he could join in all those fun reindeer games. Now, if someone came to ask, seek or knock at his door it was a piece of cake but to be assertive and aggressive…
As the big kid grew up he realized just how many wonderful opportunities he had missed because he had a problem with aggressively asking, seeking and knocking. It goes as far back as the late sixties when a neighbor returned from Vietnam and was distributing trinkets he brought back to all the neighborhood kids yet I was the only one who turned it down and at the time I remember knowing I had no reason to turn it down.
Jesus here says that not only is it alright to aggressively and assertively ask, seek and knock but that we will be rewarded for aggressively, assertively, and even audaciously asking, seeking and knocking with GOD. According to Jesus, and by the way He is a pretty good authoritative source, GOD wants us to come to Him with our needs and desires assertively, aggressively and yes, even audaciously.
Jesus points out that even we fallen, evil human beings know how to give good gifts to our children so how much more will our Good GOD in heaven give us good gifts, even long to give us good gifts. What it seems to come down to is trust. Do we trust our GOD enough to go to Him aggressively, assertively, and audaciously in prayer to let Him know our deepest needs and desires?
I choose today to put myself out there in trust and aggressively, assertively and audaciously asking, seeking and knocking with GOD. How about you?
Tuesday, February 04, 2020 Matthew 7: 1 – 6
Have you ever been judged by someone? Have you ever been judged by someone who thought they knew everything about you? Have you ever suffered scathing attacks of judgment from people who don’t know you at all?
It isn’t very pleasant, is it? It is downright frustrating isn’t it? It is profoundly infuriating isn’t it? Jesus says here that we are not to judge others or we ourselves will be judged. Jesus says here that in the same way we judge others we will be judged. Oops…
He then gives that incredible image of someone with a full on plank in their eye trying to remove the speck of sawdust out of another’s eye. Can you imagine walking around with a long board sticking out from your forehead? Can you imagine trying to draw near someone with a long board sticking out of your forehead? Can you imagine navigating a sharp turn in a hallway with a long board sticking out of your forehead?
It is a ridiculous word picture that Jesus constructs for us; ridiculous and yet oh so true. Instead of looking at others with a critical eye Jesus says we are to first look at ourselves with the critical eye to remove that plank from our own eye before attempting to help someone else with that speck of sawdust in their eye.
Giving someone the benefit of the doubt may just be the very best thing we can do for another. We know that we are the only ones who know ourselves thoroughly and often times even then, we don’t really know or understand ourselves.
How then can someone else know us any better than we know ourselves? Judgment from another person stings, stifles, weakens and destroys. We just don’t know what the other has suffered. We just don’t know what another has to deal with on a daily basis. We just don’t know their internal makeup. We just don’t know…
So, why do we judge? Does it make us feel better? Does it momentarily take the pressure or the attention off us? Instead of judging why don’t we just choose to love; why don’t we just choose to give them the benefit of the doubt?
As one trying to remove that plank from my own eye I wish you well as you try to remove that plank from your own eye.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Monday, February 03, 2020 Matthew 6: 25 – 34
“Don’t worry.” Have you ever heard those words? They were almost a litany of my childhood. It was just taken for granted by my family, those who knew me best, that I was a worrier. Check that; I was the worrier. I worried about everything. I started hearing talk about ulcers before leaving elementary school.
As I grew older I realized in observing my dad that I came to my worrying honestly. It turns out that my dad was one of the world’s great worriers. He was born in 1923 to a poor family in rural Virginia. My grandfather was a sharecropper with a bad temper and If memory serves correctly, dad remembered moving one year about 11 different times as they were kicked out of one house after the other.
Though born several years previously, Dad couldn’t tell a real difference in his life once the Stock Market crashed and the country entered the Great Depression. His life had always just been brutally hard. Entering the Marines as soon as he could after the outbreak of World War II he fought in several battles and beach invasions in the horrific Pacific Theater.
As I study history I get a better picture of my Dad’s life and can’t be hard on him. It seems like he did have a lot to worry about. For the life of me though I have no clue why I worried so. Maybe it had something to do with my brother’s untimely death when I was one. Maybe I was the symptom of my family’s grief. Maybe, I just worried to try to control things…
Over the years though as I have grown in my relationship with Jesus I have learned that He is trustworthy and even though things don’t always turn out like I plan and desire, Jesus is still trustworthy and our needs are met.
There is seemingly much to worry about in today’s world but I have a hunch that there has always seemingly been much to worry about in the world at any given time. However, I choose to trust Jesus. I choose to trust that my basic needs will be met. I choose to thank GOD in all things, particularly when things go awry. I choose to trust and thank and praise instead of worry.
By the grace of GOD which I learned heaps about from my dad as I grew up, GOD’s grace is sufficient for all my needs whether regarding the death of my brother or my dad’s heart attack or my dad’s death or what to eat or wear or pay the bills or… You get the picture. I do need reminding sometimes but choosing to trust always chases those worries away.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well…”
Trust or worry? I choose trust. Amen? Amen!
Saturday, February 1, 2020 Matthew 6: 19 – 24
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
Jesus started this section by telling us not to store up treasures here on earth but to store up treasures in heaven where they are safe for eternity. He then began to talk about the eye being the lamp of the body. Today he begins to talk about serving two masters.
I know it is a bit awkward to think about serving a master let alone two. Bob Dylan said it about forty years ago, “You gotta serve somebody…” and that is the truth. One way or another, we all will serve somebody or something. Here, Jesus is talking about serving money or God.
How would we know if we serve money or not? Is most of our time and energy spent on money? Is our major pursuit in our lives money? Does worrying about money keep us up at night? Is the first thing we think about in the morning and the last thing we think about at night money or money-related?
Now, how would we know if we serve God or not? Is most of our time and energy spent on serving God? Is the major pursuit of our lives God? Do we love God with all of our hearts, soul, strength and mind? Is God in our first thoughts of the morning? Is God in our last thoughts at night?
I have heard it said that to find out what takes pre-eminence in our lives or that which we serve, all we need do is take a look at our checkbooks and our calendars. The point being that where we spend the most money and time reveals our hearts; reveals who we serve.
I also learned years ago that our checkbooks and our calendars are the last parts of our lives to be submitted to God. Why? Our checkbooks and our calendars truly reveal our hearts where the rubber meets the road.
We cannot serve two masters. It is an impossibility. One will automatically be our master. We cannot serve both God and money. Who are we going to choose to serve today?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Friday, January 31, 2020 Matthew 6: 19 – 24
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6: 22 – 23)
How are your eyes? When I was in Junior High School I began to have problems seeing the board at school. I began to cup my hand together and make a small hole by bending one finger, look through that small hole so that I could read the black board. It worked but strained my eyes and made me look goofier than normal.
I finally told my parents what I was doing to see the board and they took me to the optometrist who diagnosed me with an astigmatism and nearsightedness. My vision back then was 20/200. That was all corrected by glasses which I have worn religiously, every day as a matter of fact ever since; except for those times when I broke my glasses which was too often in those early years.
More recently, this past summer, I began to have a lot of “floaters” and flashing in one eye and discovered I had a tear in my retina. I ended up having two different retinal tears contributed to the aging process and underwent laser “welding” to correct the problem.
But I don’t think Jesus was talking here about such kinds of eye problems. I think Jesus was talking about focus. What are our lives focused on? Probably more precisely, what are our hearts focused on? To connect to the previous paragraph, what treasures are our hearts pursuing whole-heartedly?
If our hearts are pure and our focus is on those real treasures protected in heaven then our lives are filled with light. But if our hearts are sinful and our focus is scattered on any number of lesser things then our lives are filled with darkness and I will add, fog which lead us to stumbling around lost in the dark.
The heart of this matter is the heart. How is your heart? Has your heart been washed in the blood of the Lamb? Do you love GOD with all your heart? Or are our affections spread broad and wide from a greedy, sinful heart leading us to fall and get lost in the dark?
Do we have trouble seeing? Maybe the problem lies with our hearts.
Thursday, January 30, 2020 Matthew 6: 19 – 24
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Where do we keep our treasures? Do we keep our treasures in banks, in safety deposit boxes, under the mattress, in a hole in the back yard? Where do we keep our treasures?
I have been thinking about this lately. I once worked as a missionary with the Methodist Church in Mexico and we hosted mission teams from the U.S. On one occasion a group leader put all her team’s money and tickets in the safety deposit box in the hotel. I had to get money out of their box for meals that day and inadvertently left the box open. During breakfast an employee of the hotel ran over to get me and she was pale. We walked in to find my team’s safety deposit box open. Everything was in there.
The hotel employee told me that she really, really needed that money but chose not to steal it. If she had taken that money the team would have been wiped out and it would have been my fault! I still shake at that memory. I am still filled with gratitude for the woman who found the open safety deposit box yet chose not to steal the contents.
Such it is with guarded treasures here on this earth. If it isn’t our own carelessness, our treasures are at risk to moths, rats, thieves, sudden downturns in the Stock Market, etc.
Isn’t it interesting that those kind of treasures are never really safe at all here on this earth and quite frankly aren’t true treasures. But the real treasures – our souls, our eternity, our relationship with Christ – are fully guarded, completely guaranteed, eternally secured with Christ in heaven. All we need do is entrust our souls, our eternity, our relationships with Christ to Him who guards them with His own, imperishable life.
To make that kind of eternal deposit, we just need to confess our sins, repent of our sins, ask Jesus for forgiveness, surrender to Christ and take GOD at His word: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
Where do we keep our treasures?
Wednesday, January 29, 2020 Matthew 6: 16 – 18
Jesus continues looking at spiritual disciplines. He has taken a quick look at giving and prayer but now turns his attention briefly to fasting. He gives the negative example of those who fast and make themselves look so sad and so hungry and so pious that anyone can tell they are fasting. Jesus says that this practice will only receive notice from others but not from GOD.
Instead, Jesus says that when we fast we are to look more joyful than normal. We are to wash our faces with cold, refreshing water and anoint our heads with oil so that no one will know that we are fasting, only the Father who is the One who sees in secret and is the One who rewards in secret.
Can you imagine how awesome that would be to share a secret with our Father in heaven? How scintillating, how joyous, how ecstatic that would be! So, even though we go without food, we are to not only look satiated but be satiated by the joy of the Lord!
While visiting our sister church in Cuba back in November I was once again deeply convicted and inspired by our sisters and brothers there. I was convicted about their absolute commitment to GOD when I learned that a group of pastors would spend the first few days of each year fasting and praying to GOD to offer their first fruits of the New Year to GOD.
I don’t know about you but honestly, I usually spend New Year’s Day entrenched in front of the television worshiping football; I mean, watching football and eating to my heart’s content. This year I tried something different and spent a good chunk of the day fasting, praying and anointing with oil as I submitted my life and our church into GOD’s hands.
I have continued that practice by fasting as John Wesley did primarily from mid-afternoon on Thursday through mid-afternoon on Friday. As I fast and pray I encounter GOD in rich, deep intimacy which remains with me for days afterward. I feel like “a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” as Isaiah described true fasting (Isaiah 58:11).
Won’t you join me in fasting and praying together on Thursdays? Let us fast and pray to forget about ourselves, to submit to GOD, to encounter GOD while we pray for each other, our Church and our world. I would love to know of your experiences fasting and praying.
Tuesday, January 28, 2020 Matthew 6: 5 – 15
It is easy to overlook Jesus’ teaching about prayer here and focus just on the model prayer he offers known as the “Lord’s Prayer” but there is much to learn about prayer. First, Jesus points out that prayer is not to be a publicity stunt.
He warned them not to be like the hypocrites who stood out on the street corners decked out in their “holiest” clothes praying their prettiest, gaudiest, loudest, longest prayers so everyone would notice them and say how wonderful they were. Jesus said that their reward for parading, I’m sorry; praying, was that people noticed them and said nice things about them; that’s all.
Instead, Jesus taught that prayer was primarily a private matter between us and GOD and recommended finding an intimate place, a closet even to seek GOD in prayer and passion and privacy. Jesus said that the Unseen One who sees in private would reward such sincere, honest prayer.
Oh, by the way, Jesus reminds us that GOD doesn’t need to hear some long litany of our needs like the pagans babbled about because GOD knows what we need before we even speak it. Wow!
Finally, on this lesson about prayer, Jesus ends on forgiveness. A centerpiece of this model prayer is the petition for GOD to forgive us as we forgive others. Jesus goes on to explain that if we forgive others GOD will forgive us but if we don’t forgive others who sin against us, GOD won’t forgive us who sin against GOD. Ouch! We can’t have it both ways. To be forgiven we must be forgivers.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”
Have you washed your hands lately; prayed lately; forgiven lately?
Monday, January 27, 2020 Matthew 6: 5 – 15
I will spend at least two days on this passage but I want to share with you what is happening to me. Several months ago with the outbreak of Hepatitis B in our area there was so much news coverage on its spread locally. Inevitably the newscasts would end with hand-washing as one of the best preventative measures, but thorough hand-washing, more than twenty seconds of scrubbing.
Years ago I learned to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to insure the twenty seconds. I have done that for years but always felt a bit silly. This last time around I decided to make the process more meaningful. I timed out “The Lord’s Prayer” and found it to be just a tad more than twenty seconds. I began praying “The Lord’s Prayer” every time I washed my hands.
At first it was a rote practice just to insure sufficient time for scrubbing but I noticed as time went on that it became much more. It became a time for me to submit, surrender and re-commit myself to GOD each and every time I washed my hands. And if I realized I had just rushed through it then I did it again which insured very clean hands but even more, a clean heart.
No joke; each time I wash my hands has become a spiritual encounter with GOD through this glorious prayer Jesus taught his disciples. I challenge you to pray “The Lord’s Prayer” every time you wash your hands as a spiritual discipline. You will not only discover clean hands but a clean heart with a right and steadfast Spirit. It has become such a blessing to me throughout each day.
Saturday, January 25, 2020 Matthew 6: 1 – 4
In yesterday’s reading Jesus called his listeners to be perfect as their Heavenly Father is perfect. There is something about that call to perfection or completeness that turns our heads to legalistic behavior. And yet legalistic behavior is not where it is because legalistic behavior often comes down to who’s watching.
Jesus tackles that next. We are not to practice our righteousness in such a way that draws attention to ourselves – to show how good we are to all those around us. Apparently, there were those “hypocrites” in the temple who as they gave their offerings would announce it with trumpets. Can you imagine that? I can’t say I’ve ever heard trumpets blow but have seen other, more subtle ways to announce.
Jesus says that we are to do good to those around us in such a way that no-one else knows about it. We are to give to others without anyone knowing, not even ourselves. Have you ever wondered how we can do something with our right hand without letting our left hand know? That’s pretty tough to do.
And yet, it is great fun! Have you ever given to someone without them knowing about it? I remember that one year while in seminary we decided to bless several people secretly. It was literally fun to go and leave gifts unseen. It became even greater fun to hear them share and praise GOD about these gifts and how GOD had answered prayer through us!
We actually heard one woman share that finances had been so tight for them that her husband was about to leave school. And then at Christmas someone gave them a monetary gift which really blessed them. Now, we didn’t give them a huge amount. We didn’t give them a life-transforming amount but it was enough to remind them that GOD was with them, that GOD loved them. And it was all secretive. No-one ever knew…
Well, God knew and Jesus said that GOD knowing is all that matters. I highly recommend giving in secret. Try it sometime. You will be blessed beyond measure as well as those around you…
Friday, January 24, 2020 Matthew 5: 43 – 48
Jesus captures the prevailing thought of the world that it was okay to love neighbors, family members, friends, people they liked, people who were like them, people who liked them but that it was okay to hate their enemies.
Jesus reverses that here. Jesus leaves no room whatsoever for hate of anyone with these words. We are to love our enemies just as we love our neighbors, our friends, our family, etc. Jesus goes even further and says that if we want to be children of our Heavenly Father then we cannot hate but must love.
We must love and bless indiscriminately just as GOD loves and blesses indiscriminately, naturally even like the blessing of the sun on the righteous and the wicked. There is no reward in loving those who love us but the reward (and challenge) comes by putting ourselves out and totally out there by loving those who despise us, who threaten us, who persecute us.
It might do us all well to take a minute and think about who in our lives we may consider our enemies. Just who is it that hates us; who persecutes us? Anyone come to mind? Any faces with names? Any faces without names? Did you find any personal enemies? If not who in this world would you consider an enemy?
If we find we do have enemies in our midst how can we love them? Is praying for them from a distance sufficient or are we compelled to love them in more personal, concrete, practical ways? Can real love ever be from a distance? How can we love our enemies right here, right now?
How about someone who isn’t an enemy but gets on our nerves, drives us crazy, seems to always disagree with us? Do we just try to avoid that person at all costs? Is avoidance love? How can we love such people? It may be just the fact that we stand pat and listen to them whether it is convenient for us or not; whether it is pleasant for us or not; whether it is fun for us or not.
And finally, Jesus ends here with the long-held biblical call for us to be perfect as our Father is perfect. So far in this sermon Jesus has raised the bar on sinful behavior from mere behavior which in itself is impossible enough to also include the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. What the what?
As a friend of mine often says, thank GOD for Jesus! As that ever threatening bar of sin and doom looms over us, thank GOD that Jesus chose to be lifted up on that bar for us all, for our sins.
Thursday, January 23, 2020 Matthew 5: 38 – 42
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Jesus is referring to Exodus 21:23 – 25 in this passage which reads: “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
This kind of law was not unique to Israel during this time of history as similar law codes have been found in other nations and cultures. I know it seems barbaric to us today but at the very least this type of law code provided for some sense of justice to the injured.
We all crave justice, don’t we? I mean when I see someone speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, risking the lives of us all I want to pop over the hill and see those flashing, blue lights on the horizon pulling over the offender. Justice is one of our rights, isn’t it?
But here Jesus seems to be saying that we are to forget about justice when we are mistreated and go all in. If they hit us we are to turn the other cheek. If they take our shirt we are to give them our coat. If they force us to march a mile we are to go with them another mile on our own. We are to give to the one who asks and not turn away from the borrower.
Gets real serious when Jesus starts talking about personal injury, sacrifice and money, doesn’t it? As I chew on this passage another keeps coming to my mind. Luke 9: 23: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” It seems that Jesus is describing in Matthew 5 what following Him looks like, where the rubber meets the road.
We are to so trust Jesus with all of ourselves, all we are and all we have that we submit and sacrifice our rights to justice as well for the other, for the furthering of the Kingdom. Hard message particularly for the One who lived it out for us in real time – our Lord, our Savior, our Master – Jesus Christ!
Wednesday, January 22, 2020 Matthew 5: 33 – 37
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply “Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
What is going on here? I wonder, I mean seriously wonder. The taking of oaths does not seem to be in the same conversation as murder or adultery or divorce but here it is. Again, Jesus refers to a past commandment to fulfill vows and oaths made to the Lord.
Jesus instructs his hearers that they shouldn’t make vows or oaths at all. Jesus tells them that they shouldn’t swear by heaven or by earth or by Jerusalem as they pertain and belong to GOD. I wonder if by making oaths and swearing to whatever it may be that we are taking authority and ownership over what we swear upon that we are acting like our own god as if we have some kind of control and power over the heavens, the earth or Jerusalem.
He goes on to tell them not to swear on their own heads because they didn’t have the power to determine their hair color. Of course that was before the development of Loreal or Grecian Formula or good, old-fashioned shoe polish but the point is the same. By swearing we are acting as if we have the power and the authority; like we are god of our lives.
And guess what? We are not.
Jesus says it is best not to make an oath at all but just to let our words stand-alone whether yes or no. It seems to me that yes and no simply represent one’s intentions without evoking one’s ownership, power or authority. What would that be like if we simply let our yes mean yes and our no mean no?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Tuesday, January 21, 2020 Matthew 5: 31 – 32
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
It seems that once again, Jesus is quoting Moses but this time from Deuteronomy 24:1-3, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…”
It also seems that Jesus just may have gotten into meddling at this point. Scholars tell us that divorce was incredibly common in Jesus’ day. Even though there were strict provisions against it elsewhere in the Law there had been this concession from Deuteronomy 24.
Scholars tell us that these concessions had multiplied by Jesus’ day when a woman could be divorced for any number of reasons including not being a good cook, problems with the mother-in-law, speaking out of turn, etc. and a certificate of divorce was all that was needed.
As Jesus speaks on divorce he is actually giving protection to women in an attempt to regain some control over marriage. He included the sole concession of sexual immorality and added this idea of marrying a divorced woman was committing adultery.
These words are harsh. These words have caused many years and years of loneliness and heartache for some. Jesus here and elsewhere takes a hard line against divorce. I know that in our day divorce has once again become prevalent. Not much is said anymore about divorce but the bottom line here is that Jesus took a tough line on divorce as he does here on all sin.
As we reel from that we may need to remember that Jesus took a tough line on sin and he became that tough line on sin by dying to forgive us of all sins. In a sense he is simply raising the bar against divorce just as he did on murder and adultery. It is too high for us. So high in fact that it took Jesus being raised up on that cross to die for our redemption and our forgiveness.
Monday, January 20, 2020 Matthew 5: 27 – 30
So previously, Jesus started off on the physical act of murder and moved into the thought and attitude world. Suddenly, everything has changed because when you enter into the thought and attitudes of a person, keeping the Law moves from mere mechanics into the domain of one’s heart and mind. The bar has been raised ever higher.
However, Jesus does not stop at murder and thoughts and name-calling, he moves into the area of adultery, lust and sin. Again he begins in 5:27: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’” He is again basically directly quoting Moses from Exodus 20:14 which seems to apply to the veritable act of committing adultery.
Again, Jesus cannot leave well enough alone because he delves into the deeper issues behind adultery when he quickly adds in 5:28, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Uh; uh-oh. Hasn’t that become a national past-time, looking lustfully at women? I mean, hasn’t that become a universal past-time apparently from before Jesus’ day?
My dad taught me early on that “woman” was GOD’s greatest creation – His masterpiece of all masterpieces. My dad also taught me that to look the first time at a woman was okay but never the second time. Dad told me that to take that second look was giving desire opportunity to blossom into lust and sin.
I can’t help but remember what Dad taught me whenever I read the case of King David refusing to go to war with his army at the time of year when kings always went to war with their armies. Listlessly, King David wanders around the palace until finding himself on the rooftop spying on the beautiful Bathsheba bathing. David and Bathsheba were married but not to each other. David called for her and disaster ensued of epidemic proportions – lust, rape, murder, incestuous rape in his own family, murder within his own family, etc.
If you ask me, it most probably happened with that second look. The first look can be accidental, even normal but that second look is most always intentional and suspicious. Jesus took lust and adultery so seriously that he prescribed plucking one’s eye out or cutting off one’s hand if so tempted. Better to lose an eye or a limb than one’s soul.
But the true starting place is the heart. How much better would our world be today if all took these verses seriously about guarding the thoughts of our hearts before leading us into the depths of sin and woe?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Saturday, January 18, 2020 Matthew 5: 21 – 26
Keeping in mind yesterday’s passage from Matthew 5: 17 – 20 where Jesus told the disciples that if their righteousness did not surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law that they would certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven; it seems that Jesus begins at this point in his sermon to make it painfully clear to everyone that their righteousness will not surpass anything.
In this passage Jesus takes a look at murder. He begins in 5:21 by saying, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’” He is most likely speaking of Moses when he gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites which contain the command, “You shall not murder,” in Exodus 20:13.
“You shall not murder” is quite clear and I truly believe in the unrestricted violent, ruthless world in which we live needs to be heard all over again. Murder in its various forms runs rampant today and it is impossible to turn on the television or our computers or our cellphones for the latest news without reading of murder. Murder permeates our society.
And yet, Jesus takes murder and raises the bar on murder by bringing in our thought lives to the act of murder. Jesus says in 5:22 – 22: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
As rampant as murder is in our society today I must say that it seems to dim in comparison to anger. Anger seems to be at an all-time high contagious, epidemic infecting all in its path. Many who read this are older than I am but in my more than 58 years of life I am hard-pressed even during times of war to find more anger than right now.
Camps are formed and divided over any number of issues. Anger springs forth at the drop of a hat or maybe even at the tip of a hat. Curses and expletives are spat out verbally and electronically, personally and anonymously from a distance. Murder and anger – anger and murder – we are in desperate straits. The bar has now been set so high that it is an impossibility for us to clear it righteously. We are doomed!
Or are we? The One who sets the bar higher is the One, the Only One who can leap over it by plumbing the depths of it through the cross.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy! Thank GOD, He already has!!!
Friday, January 17, 2020 Matthew 5: 17 – 20
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Just as Jesus submitted himself to John’s baptism of repentance in humility he makes it very clear from the beginning of his public ministry that he is submitting himself to the Law and the Prophets. He is not claiming immunity. He is not claiming superiority. He is claiming submission to the Law and fulfillment of the Law.
It is as if he is challenging his disciples and the others eavesdropping in to watch him carefully to make sure he abides by the Law and fulfills the Law through his personal living and his public teaching. It is obvious that Jesus holds the law in absolute reverence and respect – all of it; not just his favorite parts or the easiest parts to fulfill, but all of it.
I must say that I am personally convicted by these passages because there are so many commands that I do not obey. In a very real sense I feel broken by the Law. I remember how the Apostle Paul once said that as to the Law he had lived a perfect life. That is absolutely stunning to me because I have already broken several before I’ve even made it out of bed each day.
I also remember that the Apostle Paul said that his righteousness was like filthy rags… I am drawn back to the text where Jesus says that unless our righteousness surpasses the righteousness of the Pharisees and we know how Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees normally went and we know how Jesus called them out most of the time but if my righteousness doesn’t surpass their righteousness than I am doomed – doomed!
Right at the point of despair I read this passage again and note that Jesus came to accomplish and fulfill all of the Law and the Prophets. Right at the point of despair I read this passage again and note that Jesus came to accomplish and fulfill all of the Law and the Prophets for you…and for me! Through trust in Jesus His accomplishment becomes our accomplishment, His fulfillment becomes our fulfillment, His righteousness becomes our righteousness! Can somebody give us an “amen?”
Thursday, January 16, 2020 Matthew 5: 14 – 16
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (5:14-16).
We are light. The purpose of light is to shine. We don’t hide light. We don’t cover up light. We let light shine to its fullest in order to bring light to all. When I enter a dark room I want light to immediately shine and penetrate the darkness to the uttermost, chasing the shadows to the edges of the light. Light not only allows me to see clearly and distinctly but it allows others to see me clearly and distinctly.
As I walked in the dark early one morning I noticed a person walking quite a bit ahead of me. This person was clearly in view until she walked through a shadow. As hard as I tried I couldn’t see her while she was walking in the shadow but as she left the shadow and re-entered the light, I once again saw her clearly and distinctly.
Shadows are caused by light shining around an obstacle. What are the obstacles in our lives which cause shadows to form and grow and dominate? Are they all external or are some of them internal which cover up the light? Do we allow our sinful thoughts, words, deeds and attitudes to form deepening shadows within us?
What can we do to restore and reveal GOD’s Light fully in and through us? How do we allow GOD’s Light to shine completely in and through us if not by removing all those dark obstacles through confession and repentance and submission to the Light?
So, how are we to let our lights shine? How do we live in such a way that we don’t cover up our light but let it shine to its fullest? And why are we to let our lights shine brightly if not for others to see who we truly are through the good deeds we do which glorify our Father in heaven. Light-shining is not for our own glory but for our Father’s glory.
“Oh Holy Light who created this world and descended upon this world and lives in this world, may you shine deeply and completely through us to expunge those shadowing obstacles to reveal Your Light in us and through us today for Your Glory and only Your Glory. Amen.”
Wednesday, January 15, 2020 Matthew 5: 13
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (5:13).
Salt is one of those minerals that we need to exist, to have health, to have life. Among a multitude of uses both personal and industrial, salt is used to preserve and flavor foods which of course will be my emphasis here. Salt lengthens usefulness. Salt keeps rot away. Salt brightens and brings excitement to bland, boring foods. Salt is used to melt frozen roads and sidewalks (I had to add one non-food related item here for reputation’s sake).
Jesus said that “we are the salt of the earth.” We are salt. Have you ever looked at yourself in terms of saltiness? Strange question, right? One man in my childhood called me “Salty.” It took me years to figure out why – Brian, brine, salty. It bothered me as a child, not so much anymore.
Actually, it may bother me even more today as I take it as a spiritual reminder on how I live my life. Do I live my life in such a way that I preserve life around me? Do I live my life in such a way that I bring flavor and excitement to the world around me? Do I live my life in such a way that I melt cold, heavy hearts? Am I allowing the Holy Spirit to have his full work in me to make me the salt this world needs?
Let us all take a moment and think of our lives in terms of saltiness. Are we salty? Do we preserve and extend life in this world? Do we bring flavor and excitement to bland, boring? Do we melt the cold-hearted? I am sure you can add to these questions from qualities of salt that most speak to you. If so, I would love to hear them.
We can’t take this lightly (with a grain of salt?) with those frightening words of warning Jesus includes here. When salt ceases to be salty it is useless. When salt is useless it is to be thrown away and trampled upon. Are we salty or not?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Tuesday, January 14, 2020 Matthew 4: 23 – 5: 12
The public ministry begins in earnest with Jesus proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and demonstrating that good news of the kingdom through healing multitudes of people with a variety of ailments. People begin to flock from all over.
In the midst of massive crowds Jesus takes the disciples aside and begins to teach them in 5:3-12: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
These are amazing, historic, transformative words to begin Jesus’ ministry. These are bewildering, shocking, astonishing words to those waiting for the All-Powerful, knight-in-shining-armor, boots-in-the-face-of-the-Romans Messiah.
Please read over these words several times. Let them sink deep into your heart and your mind. Chew on these words. Meditate on these words and notice what Jesus did not say at this all-important moment when He was setting the tone, the foundation stones even, for His ministry.
He did not say, “Blessed are the mighty.” He did not say, “Blessed are the powerful.” He did not say, “Blessed are the rich.” He did not say, “Blessed are the famous.” He did not say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for wealth, power, fame, etc.” He did not say, “Blessed are those who are always right.” He did not say, “Blessed are the judgmental.” He did not say, “Blessed are those who are liked by everyone.” He did not say, “Blessed are those everyone speaks highly of…”
He pretty much said just the opposite. From the beginning Jesus seemed to be reversing the expectations placed on him for hundreds of years. This was a definite reversal of fortune if you will. Jesus was about more than that; Jesus was way beyond all that.
As we soak in what Jesus did say, how do we feel? How do we respond? How do we live?
“LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!”
Monday, January 13, 2020 Matthew 4: 18 – 22
I don’t know what you do for a living. Maybe you are a longshoreman. Maybe you are an attorney. Maybe you are a physician. Maybe you are a computer programmer. Maybe you are a pilot. Maybe you are an interior designer. Maybe you are in retail. Maybe you are an actor. Maybe you are a pastor. Maybe you are a fisherman.
Imagine a typical day at work. You are focusing on the task at hand, whatever that may be. You have no real clue what’s going on around you; you are so intent on completing your task. You are already beginning to think about what you’re going to do when you finish; what you’ll have for dinner, what show you’ll watch on television, whether you’ll do that crossword puzzle or not.
Out of the blue you hear a voice calling your name. You look up and don’t recognize the person calling you by name. You can’t really hear what they are saying but as they approach their words become crystal clear. “Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men and women.”
“Who, me?” just may be your first response but those eyes, those kind, gentle eyes that look right through your skin and into your soul pierce your consciousness. You know you really have no choice. You drop what you are doing and follow Jesus. You leave all behind and follow Jesus. You even leave your partners, your boss, your co-workers behind and follow Jesus.
What would you do if Jesus comes calling? What would you do?
Saturday, January 11, 2020 Matthew 4: 12 – 17
After the wilderness temptations Jesus is ready to begin his public ministry. If it was necessary for Jesus to intentionally suffer temptation before beginning his public ministry I wonder if anyone escapes temptation before/during/after public ministry – probably not! Let us be aware, ready and led by the Holy Spirit!
Jesus begins his public ministry by intentionally moving from Nazareth to Capernaum in Galilee in order to fulfill prophecy, in order to be obedient to prophecy. Hmm… I don’t know about you but as I look back over my life I am quite sure I have never walked in obedience so that I might fulfill prophecy. What would that look like?
Maybe I could start out today by deciding to be obedient and fulfill a possible prophecy in my life. How about this one from James 1:19 – 20: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
I had never thought of this in those terms before. As Jesus re-ordered his life to be obedient and fulfill prophecy should we not look for similar opportunities?
Jesus begins to preach publicly and his message is the same as John the Baptist’s – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As a matter of fact in Jesus the kingdom of heaven was right on top of them. As a matter of fact in Jesus through the Holy Spirit the kingdom of heaven is right on top of us!
How should we respond? Is there any other option than throwing ourselves on the ground and repenting from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet? When I think of repentance I must start with myself before I look outward. When I think of repentance I think of Nehemiah way back in the day standing in the ashes of Jerusalem with head hung low repenting not just for his own sins but for the sins of his nation, the sins of his countrymen.
With a heavy recognition that the Kingdom of God is near (right on top of us) let us repent for ourselves, for our church, for our nation using these words from II Chronicles 7:14 as a guide: “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Friday, January 10, 2019 Matthew 4: 1 – 11
Today we take a third look at this passage. We have previously seen how the Holy Spirit intentionally led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The devil tempted Jesus accusingly to prove he was GOD’s Son by turning stones into bread. Jesus demonstrated where his heart was by quoting Scripture and showing he was already eating on GOD’s word – hunger was not a problem.
Next, the devil took Jesus to the highest point on the temple and enticed him to again prove his identity by jumping off the temple knowing that GOD would provide angels to catch him. This time the devil strategically quotes Scripture which Jesus surmounts with other Scripture that cut to the heart of the matter – we should not test GOD!
Today, we see that the devil led Jesus to a high mountain where they could see a large expanse of the earth revealing all the kingdoms of the world – their wealth, their power, their splendor. The devil stops beating around the bush here and just gets to the point in 4:9: “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.”
Again with authority that must have shaken the devil, Jesus replied: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Again, even though this is a quote from Scripture I get the sense that Jesus isn’t just quoting a memorized passage but rather using it strategically to both rebuke Satan, declare his intentions of worshiping only GOD, and perhaps even calling Satan to repentance and worship.
As we look at these three temptations it is obvious what an important role Scripture played in Jesus successfully meeting the temptations proffered to him by the devil. Jesus allowed Scripture to speak for Himself. It behooves us to learn this lesson from Jesus and spend so much quality time seeking GOD through Holy Scripture that it just flows through us.
But, even more than that Jesus’ personal relationship with the Father is revealed and oh, so evident throughout this encounter. Jesus wasn’t just speaking words. Jesus wasn’t just using rote memorization. Jesus allowed the Word of GOD to flow through Him and speak for Him because that is who he is.
Ahem, I will also point out here that Satan tempted Jesus with things Jesus had created and already held authority over. I wonder how often in our own lives we are tempted by created things that don’t really hold any power over us but we surrender to them instead… Failed in this attempt to tempt and trip up Jesus; may it also fail against us the next time as we keep our eyes on the Creator rather than the created…
Thursday, January 09, 2020 Matthew 4: 1 – 11
Let’s take a second look at this reading. Yesterday we noted how Jesus had been intentionally led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. There is so much for us to learn here.
Yesterday we saw how the devil attacked Jesus at his deepest, personal, most immediate need – his searing hunger after a forty day fast. I suppose the devil was counting on even rocks looking appetizing to Jesus at that point. Hunger wasn’t the only issue here as the devil challenges him with that big “if.” “If you are…”
Jesus responded to and shut down the devil with his scriptural response which I think was much more than a rote reply from a long before memorized verse. It had the muscle of a personal relationship with the Father behind it.
Next, the devil took Jesus to the highest part of the temple in Jerusalem and taunted him to throw himself down to perhaps cause a public spectacle, to gain instant celebrity. We see here that Jesus isn’t the only one in this account who knew Scripture. The tempter quoted directly from Psalm 91.
Now, as I write, I intentionally refrain from looking at any commentaries or the like because this really is my response and reflection on God’s word from my heart. I don’t know what the commentaries say about Psalm 91 but as I look at it and read it several times I cannot say with certainty that this is prophetically speaking specifically about the Messiah. It starts out “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High…” which seems to open the door widely to anyone rather than limit it to the coming Messiah.
Psalm 91:9-10 which immediately precede the devil’s quote say: “If you say, ‘The LORD is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.” These verses again seem to leave it wide open to whoever chooses GOD as their refuge and dwelling.
We can also note that since we are on the backside of this conversation and know how Jesus lived in this world and all that he suffered. The devil really didn’t have a clue as to why he had come to earth and for what purpose…
Anywhoooo, Jesus completely shuts down this temptation by quoting directly back at the devil from Scripture – “It is also written: ‘Do not put the LORD your God to the test.” Jesus speaks with certainty, with innate authority that only the Son of GOD could possess and leaves absolutely no wriggle room for the devil here. The high-flying act does not happen. Jesus passed test number two! Next!!!
Wednesday, January 08, 2020 Matthew 4: 1 – 11
Yesterday we read of Jesus’ baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. As Jesus comes out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him and he hears GOD unabashedly recognize him as His Son and proclaim his love and pleasure for him. He is next led immediately out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.
I don’t know about you but I don’t necessarily want to be intentionally led out into the wilderness to be tempted. To be honest, I normally don’t need to be led into the wilderness of temptation; I kind of carry it with me. How about you? In this case Jesus is intentionally led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, to be prepared for public ministry, to be seasoned for the rest of his life.
Jesus fasts for forty days and forty nights and must have been literally starving. I fasted for a week once and can tell you that I thought I would die at times during that solitary week. Jesus fasted for forty days and nights. Famished probably doesn’t come to describe his hunger and the devil hits him where he is most needy – in his hunger. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
“Come on Jesus. If you are really who you say you are (and by the way, when had Jesus ever said that?) you can speak rock into delicious, homemade bread. Come on. Do it!” As hungry as Jesus was it seems like he was chewing on something else, something more substantial, something more filling. Jesus responded, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
I know that Jesus is the Word of GOD. I have a hunch that Jesus sat at the knees of Mary and Joseph and learned and memorized and meditated on the Word. At twelve he astounded the priests and experts of the Law with his knowledge. I think that knowledge was both inherent and hard-earned. But you know something? I don’t think Jesus just pulled out some verse he had memorized to rebuke the devil. He may not have even been thinking about anything he had read in the scrolls.
What was the last word we know that had come from GOD’s mouth to Jesus? Wasn’t it – “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”? As we are led or lead ourselves into temptation’s path what if we remembered those words spoken over us? “You are my child; I love you; you please me.”
My hunch is that the tempter will flee as we fall into our Father’s embrace. Amen? Amen!
Tuesday, January 07, 2020 Matthew 3: 11 – 17
We back up a bit today to catch John’s description of the one who will follow him shortly. Notice by John’s description that this “follower” surpasses John by baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire instead of water for repentance. John points out that he isn’t even worthy to carry his sandals.
John also paints a descriptive picture of this one who comes along behind coming ready for bear with winnowing fork in hand to harvest fore safe-keeping and to burn the chaff. This picture isn’t really warm and fuzzy is it? John doesn’t come off real warm and fuzzy, does he? What can we expect from this One to come?
After this fierce introduction Jesus arrives not quite blazing in power as the world defines power but in humility and submission. The One by whom, for whom and through whom all things – all things – were created humbly arrives to subject himself who knew no sin to the baptism of repentance just like most everyone else.
John repels at this suggestion knowing that there is no need for Jesus to be baptized for he had nothing to repent from and he seems downright horror struck at the idea he would baptize Jesus. John finally relents because Jesus insists in fully identifying himself with all those he came to save. And this verse from Il Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Perhaps this scene at the River Jordan is a foreshadowing of the sinless one taking on the sins of the world to save those who will recognize their need for salvation and submit to him. As Jesus rises from the water the heavens are split open and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus like a white dove. A powerful, heavenly voice declares to Jesus: “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Before he had turned water into wine; before he had fed the thousands with a few pieces of bread; before he had walked on water; before he had healed the masses; before he had done anything GOD boldly declares his love and pleasure for Him. Jesus didn’t earn GOD’s love neither do we; we are simply loved by GOD who takes pleasure in us!
Monday, January 06, 2020 Matthew 3: 1 – 12
Unlike Luke, Matthew gives us no preliminary information about John the Baptist. Matthew gives us no background information, no wondrous birth narrative, and no miraculous birth to silent Zechariah and barren Elizabeth.
John the Baptist bursts upon the scene like a blazing comet dashing across the night sky without any introduction. Dressed in the wardrobe of a wilderness wanderer or an ancient prophet in camel’s hair and leather; eating locusts and wild honey, John brashly calls the Israelites to repent in preparation for the arrival of the Kingdom of God!
John fulfills Isaiah’s prophecies of a forerunner who would prepare the way for the Messiah by boldly and bravely proclaiming repentance. John leaves no wriggle room. John sees no gray. John gives an equal message to all for the desperate need of all to repent. John aims most directly at those who considered themselves and were considered by most others as the holy ones.
Intriguing, no; that John lowers the boom on the Pharisees and the Sadducees who in today’s terms would be the regular church-goers and those with power and authority both religiously and somewhat secularly. Repentance is not reserved for those down and out, wicked, nasty, helpless, make-no-bones- about-it sinners but for all.
He also gave no space for those who thought they were good and safe because of their heritage or national status. Related to Abraham carried absolutely no weight with John because right relationship with GOD suddenly became about more than lineage or national citizenship but everything about recognition of sinfulness, confession and repentance – turning around completely from whom they once were…
Let’s think about this for a minute. If John the Baptist arrived in our city today, how would we respond to his message? What is it about ourselves that we think makes us safe and secure? Is it our family heritage? Are we safe because our grandparents and our parents were followers of Jesus Christ? Are we safe because we were born in the United States? Are we safe because of our church membership? Are we safe because we are good?
If we heard John’s cry and call for repentance would we feel the need to repent? Listen, can we hear him calling? Listen closer…
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Saturday, January 4, 2020 Matthew 2: 13 – 23
There is a lot of dreaming going on here. Joseph dreams when finding out his betrothed is pregnant. He awakes and immediately obeys GOD and takes her to be his wife.
The magi travel hundreds of miles to find the baby king so they can worship him. They offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and then have a dream. Ordered by Herod to come and let him know the specifics of the baby when they find him, the magi dream otherwise and return home by an alternate route without visiting Herod again.
Before anything has happened Joseph dreams and is warned in his dream by an angel of the Lord that Herod will soon be on the rampage to find and kill his family. Joseph is ordered to get up and take his family to Egypt. So, what does Joseph do? As soon as he wakes up he packs up the family and leads them down to Egypt.
Herod soon enough catches on that he has been tricked so maybe the “wise men” were wise after all and instead of taking out his ire on the magi he instead takes aim at all boy babies and infants under the age of two years of age in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Bethlehem wasn’t a huge city so this number of murdered innocents wasn’t an astronomical number but certainly reverberated through eternity.
But that one baby they sought was safe and sound in Egypt, just waiting to return to his homeland. Soon enough Herod dies and once again Joseph is informed in a dream. When hearing that Herod’s son now reigned in his stead, Joseph once again packed up his family and moved them to Nazareth, off the beaten path from Jerusalem.
In the midst of these dreams and perhaps because of these dreams there is fulfilled prophecy on all sides. Jeremiah’s prophecy of Rachel mourning for her children is fulfilled by the mourning mothers of Bethlehem. Upon Herod’s death Joseph was informed and made plans to move back to Israel thus fulfilling the prophet Hosea’s words of GOD calling His Son out of Egypt. Finally Moses wisely decides to move his family to Nazareth and fulfills the prophecy that one day the Messiah would be called a Nazarene.
As nations roar and King Herod rages one thing is for certain – GOD is still GOD and is using these events for His own purposes and plans. As the world seethes and threatens and murders GOD’s plans from of old are being fulfilled. Amen? Amen!
Friday, January 3, 2020 Matthew 2: 1 – 12
I have a few questions from today’s text.
If you had seen some sort of astrological phenomenon over a certain period of time and became convinced that it was a sign that a new king would be born in Israel and you were so convinced that you left everything to follow that astronomical sign hundreds of miles in search of the newborn king, would you stop and ask the vicious, wicked, wily, hyper-paranoid, current king directions? Someone has actually said that because they did stop to ask King Herod of all people directions then maybe the wise men weren’t so wise.
While I think about it, if you had followed that astronomical phenomenon for hundreds and hundreds of miles why would you need to stop and ask anyone for directions? Is it possible that as the Magi traveled, the sign, whatever it may have been, began to wane a bit and they decided to trust someone else (anyone else) instead of GOD to guide them?
And if you were the vicious, wicked, wily, current king who was so hyper-paranoid about someone taking your throne that you had murdered various and sundry family members to protect your throne, would you have to ask where the Messiah would be born? Even if you weren’t too familiar with the Scriptures wouldn’t you have memorized that part?
And if you happened to live in Jerusalem when the Magi arrived asking for directions to the newborn king of Israel’s birthplace would you have been terrified? And if you lived in Jerusalem when all of these events occurred don’t you think you would have been aware of all going on in Bethlehem just a few miles away?
These are just some of the questions that arise when I read Matthew’s account of the Magi and I can pretty much answer a good portion of them but pointing to our selfishness and narcissism which causes us to be so self-absorbed with ourselves that we miss the signs, even those right next door, when the world is changing around us.
I do know this. GOD designed all of this. Somehow GOD got the Magi’s attention with the astronomical phenomenon which caused them to travel to Jerusalem demonstrating that this newborn king would not be just a regional king or a national king or even an international king but a universal king born to serve and save us all!
And King Herod who raged against GOD by destroying the babies of Bethlehem would live only a brief time longer. King Herod fades from history. The only reason anyone ever says anything nowadays about Herod is when relating him to Jesus. My how the tables have turned and they will continue to turn in Jesus.
Thursday, January 2, 2020 Matthew 1: 18 – 25
Matthew gives us a bit of the birth narrative of Jesus through the perspective of Joseph, I guess. I mean I have so many questions. Matthew tells us that Joseph was engaged, discovered his fiancé was pregnant, that he was faithful to the law and that he didn’t want to expose Mary to public disgrace.
I want to know more about Joseph. I want to know how he really felt upon discovering his fiancé was pregnant. Did he yell at her? Did he go out into the wilderness and rage? Did he throw his hammer through a wall somewhere?
How about that dream? Could it have been simply something he had eaten the night before? Could it have been a bad case of insomnia combined with terrible indigestion? How did Joseph know for certain that GOD had spoken to him through a dream? I really want to know.
I have a sense that when push came to shove Joseph just decided to trust GOD. I rarely remember any of my dreams and when I do I normally don’t have a clue what they meant. Somehow when Joseph awoke he remembered, he knew and he trusted. One more thing, he obeyed. According to Matthew as soon as Joseph woke up he knew what to do and immediately obeyed and did it.
What would it have been like to be married to a woman who was pregnant by the Holy Spirit? How would one even go about parenting such a child? Joseph had to have been a man of great faith. Even more than that Joseph must have known who he was in GOD’s sight. I mean, after all, GOD entrusted this history-altering, world-transforming baby into his care.
When it comes down to it I wonder. I wonder who had more faith in the other – Joseph in GOD or GOD in Joseph. Think about it. Now one more thought for us to chew on today. What or who has GOD entrusted into our hands? What or who has GOD trusted to us?
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!
Wednesday, January 1, 2020 Matthew 1: 1 – 17
I know, I know, genealogies aren’t very exciting. Even our own genealogies aren’t too enthralling until we discover someone famous down the line. Just this past year my family discovered that we are related to Daniel Boone which makes me much more likely to read my genealogy but still…
Matthew starts off his gospel of Jesus Christ with Jesus’ genealogy. Matthew links Jesus directly to Abraham demonstrating his Jewish heritage and roots. As we take a look at Jesus’ genealogy do you know what we won’t find? We won’t find any perfect people. We will find a few famous people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Solomon and we run across many kings but still, we don’t find any perfect people.
Matthew even divides Jesus’ genealogy up in three series of fourteen people which may have something to do with that perfect, complete number 7 but still no perfect people. I must say though I am most intrigued by this lack of perfection. I mean you would think that the genealogy of GOD’s Son would be perfect but alas that wasn’t the case. Jesus didn’t come to impress but to connect and to save.
If we look close enough at all of our genealogies we will find reasons of hesitancy, embarrassment, maybe even shame. Shhhh, there may even be some in our genealogies we don’t want anyone else to know about. As I look through this genealogy in Matthew I find liars, manipulators, scoundrels, adulterers, rapists, murderers and the like.
It wasn’t too common for women to be mentioned prominently in genealogies of that day but here we find five of them mentioned. One was an abused woman and disguised herself to trick her father-in-law to sleep with her becoming pregnant by him; he called her a better person than himself. Another was known far and wide as a prostitute, a foreign prostitute at that. Another was known as a Moabite whose genealogy began with incest. The fourth was raped by a king. And the fifth, well the fifth became pregnant before marriage…
Scandalous perhaps but you know what; GOD was working in and through each person in Jesus’ genealogy. Now, often times they were not faithful to GOD but GOD was faithful to them. GOD had an overarching purpose for this particular genealogy. And I have a hunch that GOD has an overarching purpose for each of our particular genealogies.
As we begin a new year today it just may be a good time to look back at our own families. Instead of finding failure there may we find GOD’s faithfulness imbedded throughout and know that the GOD who was faithful to our great, great, great, great, great, grandfather will be just as faithful to us! And even better than that, regardless of our family heritage, in Jesus we have been redeemed, we have been adopted! Amen? Amen!