Friday, January 21, 2022

January 21 - Matthew 15


 Key verse: "Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." Matthew 15:28


Big Idea: Faith is the boundary of the Kingdom of Jesus. 


In Matthew 15, we meet a woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon. The woman is described, literally, as a Canaanite woman. The term is so odd that some translations relegate it to a footnote and substitute the more common “Gentile.” Canaanite was an anachronistic term even in the first century; it was used to describe the historical enemies of God’s people who had lived in the land of Palestine. Matthew picked a deliberately loaded term. The historic enemy of Israel came to Jesus, asking for help. What would the King of the Jews say? 


Nothing. He ignored her pleas. How could the one that John would later write “is love” be so cold? Yet she persisted. She annoyed the disciples, so they finally asked Jesus to send her away. He did not send her away, but told her, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” If there is anything worse than silence, it must be an insult. He went from ignoring her to calling her a dog! How could this be the One that John said would take away the sin of the world


Still, she continued, and agreed with Jesus, but reminded him that even dogs get scraps dropped on the floor. Her response demonstrated humility (she knew she did not deserve an answer) and faith (she believed that casting out a demon was as insignificant as crumbs to Jesus). The Lord then gives the response that we expected all along: “Your faith is great. Your request is granted.” He healed her daughter with a word and praised her in front of the disciples, but only after He had put her through the ringer. We should not mistake this for cruelty. Jesus knew from the beginning that she would prove herself worthy but allowed her to demonstrate her faith in action. He was the Messiah of Israel and until His resurrection, His ministry was focused on the nation. But even then, He was ever dropping hints that He was building a new people, not marked by food, clothes, or ancestry, but faith.


Discussion Idea: What physical boundaries are you tempted to apply to the people of God? Are they social, political, educational, or age-based? 


Prayer Focus: Ask God for eyes like His, to see that no human circumstances are an obstacle for Him. 


Thursday, January 20, 2022

January 20 - Matthew 14

 




Key verse: And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison." Matthew 14:10


Big Idea: The victory of Jesus’ kingdom may seem delayed, but it is sure. 


I wish Chick-fil-A ran the driver’s license office. A smiling teenager takes my order on their tablet, lets me swipe my card, and tells me it was their pleasure to stand in the blistering sun so I can have a lemonade. Someone at the next kiosk is ready with my receipt and my food is nearly in my car before I realize I am at the window. It is quick, it is efficient, and it is predictable. When I have renewed my driver’s license, the best I can say is that I could quickly predict it would be inefficient. We live in a society where we expect instant gratification and when we do not get it we are on Twitter hoping for an apology and a gift card. But I have some tough news: God is not Chick-fil-A, despite their shared affinity for the first day of the week. God is not concerned about waiting on me hand and foot to give me what I want when I want it. He is not interested in my timetable, because He has a better one.

John the Baptist had done everything right. He had answered God’s call to preach the gospel, baptized untold hordes of people, recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God, and ultimately been thrown into prison for the unpardonable crime of speaking truth to power. Remember when Jesus had said: “of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist”? Yet, while Jesus continued to teach and preach, John languished in prison. Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who slaughtered the children in Bethlehem, had married his sister-in-law and John had rebuked him for it. John was rewarded with death. He never saw the conclusion of the story he had helped begin.


Fulfillment delayed is not fulfillment denied when God is the one who has promised. The truth is that very few of us will ever see the big picture of what God is doing with our lives, at least not on this side of eternity. So we see by faith that what God says He will do, He always does. He is not bound by my microwave mentality. As Longfellow famously translated the old proverb: 


Though the mills of God grind slowly; Yet they grind exceeding small;

Though with patience He stands waiting, With exactness grinds He all.” 


It is true of God’s justice and it is true of His work in our lives. He is not overly concerned by time, but He is perfect in timing. 


Discussion Idea: When have you seen God answer a prayer or a need after what seemed to you like a long delay? What did you learn from that experience? 


Prayer Focus: Pray for faith to endure, even when the answer is unseen. 


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

January 19 - Matthew 13


Key verse:But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold." Matthew 13:8


Big Idea: The Kingdom of Jesus changes lives at different times and in different ways, but the life it brings is unstoppable.


One of the saddest times of the year is the end of tomato season. The heat has withered the plants and it is doing its best on the gardener. It seems like I planted the seeds in another lifetime before I knew what a coronavirus was and when I could still walk across a parking lot without changing shirts. There is a lot of dirt, water, sunshine, and time between golden seed and juicy red tomato. The end result bears no resemblance to the initial input, but there is continuity. My seeds held a tiny spark of life in them, which grew and spread throughout. My bell peppers have grown differently than my tomatoes, my figs in another way, and my cucumbers in yet a different way, but the principle is the same in each. If the seed is able to take root, it will provide fruit after its kind. 


Some of Jesus’ best-known parables come from the world of agriculture, and the parable which begins today’s chapter is probably the best known of all. The Parable of the Sower, or Parable of the Soils, is one of the only parables explicitly interpreted by Jesus. The seed is the good news of the Kingdom of God and the various soils represent the kinds of hearts in which it might land. Verse 23 refers to those who understand the message as the good soil and to those who “produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When the seed takes root in receptive soil, it bears fruit. Not always the same quantity or in the same time, but that seed of life is always growing and multiplying. 


The next parable in this chapter, the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, gives an important warning. Like tares are hard to distinguish from wheat before the harvest, we cannot always tell whether a person’s faith is genuine until they stand before God. Sometimes what seems strong has no root. Sometimes what seems weak is just a late bloomer, but will eventually bring a great harvest. This requires a certain humility on our part since we cannot judge what kind of harvest someone else ought to bear or when they should produce it. I could not plant more tomatoes now because the season is wrong. Fighting the weather would only frustrate me and leave me with nothing to show for it. What is obvious in the physical world seems hard to remember in ministry! God works with His people on His timetable and in His way, and no amount of scolding or work from me will turn July to March. But when we make it our business to support what God is already doing, weeding and watering alongside His plants, we nurture life and support the harvest of more life for His glory. 


Discussion Idea: For a seed to become a new plant, it has to die. How does bearing fruit for Jesus require our “death”? 


Prayer Focus: Pray that we will have the kind of patient love for late bloomers and small harvests as God has for us. 


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

January 18 - Matthew 12


 Key verse: But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless." Matthew 12:7

Big Idea: The Kingdom of Jesus demands obedience that goes beyond the superficial.

Walking with Jesus on the Sabbath, the disciples reached out to pick some grain to eat. Although this was not a violation of the Sabbath law, it was a violation of the elaborate oral law built up around it. The Pharisees came to Jesus and protested. Jesus could have simply quoted Deuteronomy 23:25, which permitted picking grain with your hands on the Sabbath. Instead, He took a much broader route by making three comparisons. (1) King David broke the letter of the law by taking the sacred loaves of bread when he was on the run from King Saul, (2) the priests worked on the Sabbath because the service of the temple outweighed the restriction against working on Saturday, and (3) God has announced in Hosea that He wanted mercy more than sacrifice.

What do these have to do with the disciples picking grain while they served Jesus? The only way these points would make sense is if Jesus were greater than King David, the sacrificial system, and the temple itself. Priests could offer animals on the Sabbath – but the disciples were serving the perfect Lamb. From dawn to dusk, the temple was busy with work, but the disciples walked with God tabernacled in human flesh. King David’s reign was more important than the ceremonial bread, but the dominion of Jesus would never end. If the Sabbath law was inferior to the shadows that Jesus cast through the years, how much more now? Jesus made the point explicit. The Pharisees should not attack the disciples, “For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”

Imagine criticizing obedience to signs and symbols while the Lawgiver Himself stood there. They were precise in their compliance with specific instructions and never understood the heart of God. Our heavenly Father wants more from us than rote obedience, thinking we can earn a relationship with Him. Our righteousness cannot be about what we force up in ourselves. The only holiness that you and I have is the righteousness given to us by faith when we recognize who Jesus is. The Lamb, the Temple, and our Perfect Rest provided the sacrifice and overwhelms us with His mercy.

Discussion Idea: Why is it easier to seek obedience to hundreds of elaborate written and unwritten rules than the simplicity of a transformed heart?

Prayer Focus: Ask God to open your eyes to the heart of the matter: His Son. 


Monday, January 17, 2022

January 17 - Matthew 11


 Key verse: "The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them."  Matthew 11:5

Big idea: The Kingdom testifies about the heart of the King.

Jesus was the one who would take away the sin of the world. John the Baptist was sure of that. But if the promised Messiah had come, why was wicked Herod still on the throne of Israel? Worse, why was John imprisoned for no crime other than telling the truth about Herod’s sin of convincing his Herodias to leave his brother to marry him? It seemed strange that the King had finally arrived, but things continued as they always had. So John sent a messenger to Jesus to ask the obvious question: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

John did not seem to doubt Jesus, he was still willing to accept Jesus’ word about His identity, but he doubted himself. Had he misunderstood when he trusted Jesus was the King? Jesus did not rebuke John for his question. Instead, He told the messenger to return with evidence that the Kingdom was here, even if it was not fully manifest in John’s situation. The blind, the lame, the deaf, and the lepers were healed, and the good news was preached to the poor. God’s reign was breaking through into people’s hearts. From our modern world, we have far better evidence than John ever did. The Baptist died long before Jesus was arrested, beaten, mocked, and executed for the sins of the world. Proof that the love of God is here on full display. On the third day, the penalty paid, He rose again triumphant. Proof that the power of God is here on full display. The King is here, and His power is defanging the old oppressors.  

We have the evidence, but will we believe? Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes for refusing to believe but dealt tenderly with John, who just needed the reassurance of his Master. Indeed, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist.” Yet the least born into the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than the least born physically to a mother. John was an incredible man, both a prophet and the fulfillment of prophecy, but we can be his brothers and sisters by faith. Jesus’ conclusion of the chapter is powerful. He thanked the Father for not revealing Himself to the impressive and the wise, but the childlike. We do not enter God’s family because of our merit but because of His grace.

Discussion Idea: How does your approach to people with doubts compare to the path Jesus took with John?

Prayer Focus: Thank you, Lord, for revealing Yourself to us, when we were undeserving and had nothing to offer You except a sin-stained heart of faith. Thank You for bringing us into Your Kingdom with patience and compassion. Help us to see that even though Your Kingdom is not yet fully revealed, You are working in our lives.


Friday, January 14, 2022

January 14 - Matthew 10

 




Key verse: “Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows." - Matthew 10:31

Big Idea: Jesus is all we need for the work of His Kingdom.  

Have you ever started to make a meal and realized midway through that you were missing a critical ingredient? The onions are sauteeing, the water is boiling, and the meat is…frozen.  There is a reason that a professional chef will set all of the needed supplies out before beginning! An experienced contractor will not begin a project and learn midway through that he does not have enough bricks. No military launches an invasion without determining the guns, tanks, and airplanes needed to win. It is foolish to begin without the tools to finish the job, and what is true of the physical world has a spiritual application as well. What do we need to carry out Christ’s work?

Jesus told His disciples not to worry about some of the things we might expect they would need. Money, clothing, and even extra shoes were unnecessary. The only thing they needed to carry was the message: The Kingdom of Heaven is near. God would provide for them as they went through strangers who would come to faith. There was no calling ahead to reserve a room at La Quinta. The only security they had was their faith. They did not need to worry, even though they would face betrayal, rejection, and apparent failure, like their Master Himself.  No matter what they faced, He was enough for them.

If my shoes wear out, my parents turn their backs on me, and I have nowhere to stay, Jesus is still enough. No stockpiles of supplies can replace the One who is active in caring for us, before whom not even a sparrow falls to the ground. There is no need to prepare elaborate speeches for if we stand trial because the Spirit of our Father will give us what to say at that moment.

When God gives us something, it is a blessing for which we should be grateful. I cannot imagine ministering through the coronavirus pandemic without the gifts of the Internet. I would not want to pastor here in the Houston metro without the blessing of air conditioning. But we should never mistake the gift for the Giver. Even when we think we have lost some essential tools or irreplaceable friends, we must realize that if we have Jesus, we have everything.

Discussion Idea: What resource are you tempted to trust instead of God? Money, facilities, people? How can you reshape your thinking to depend on Him entirely?

Prayer Focus: Ask God to help you recognize what He has already given you, and to remove any excuses that keep us from obedience. 


Thursday, January 13, 2022

January 13 - Matthew 9


Key verse: “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house." - Matthew 9:6

Big Idea: The miracles of King Jesus demonstrated His royal authority.   

Writing about authority in 2021 is clearly a delicate task. Our society is asking fundamental questions about the presence and the use of power, and answers vary radically. But the first century was no less tenuous. The Roman Empire and Jewish leaders alike deserved the condemnation Ezekiel had given to wicked rulers centuries before: “neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock (Ezekiel 34:8).” But a new King is now on the scene, full of grace and truth, and He is prepared to demonstrate that His authority is legitimate and total.

At the beginning of our chapter, a paralyzed man was brought to Jesus on a stretcher. Jesus saw the faith of the man and those who brought him and said the one thing no one was expecting: “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” Two things stand out here. First, Jesus demonstrated His priority of the soul over the body. Second, Jesus shows that He believes He has the right to forgive sins, which is God’s prerogative alone.

The Pharisees’ response is perfectly reasonable. This kind of talk is blasphemy! They wonder, “Does [Jesus] think he’s God?” and Jesus replies to their thoughts. He asks an interesting question: “Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?” To prove that He has the authority to do the thing they could not see, He does something they can see: He gives the paralyzed man the strength to stand. The people were amazed, but did not really understand the significance of what Jesus had done, and only thought of Jesus as an especially blessed man. The Pharisees understood the importance of Jesus’ claim, but did not worship Him.

How do the Pharisees explain this away? We only find out at the end of the chapter, after He has continually demonstrated His power over disease, sin, and death itself. They claim that He is casting out demons by the power of the devil. They see His power – the ability to act – but reject His authority – the right to do so. The miracles were wasted on them because they did not recognize them as the divine stamp of approval on Jesus. But how do we respond? Do we cherish Jesus for what He can do for us, or do we worship because what He can do reminds us of who He is?

Discussion Idea: Was there any miracle which Jesus could have done to persuade the Pharisees? Can a miracle convince a skeptic today?

Prayer Focus: Pray that we will not see God’s blessings for their own sake, but will see them as pointers to God’s heart.