Friday, January 31, 2020

Matthew 23

Key Verse: Matthew 23:28

Big Idea: God does not look at the outside, but the heart.

Matthew 23 is almost the antithesis of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus had listed various descriptions of the blessed person, but here, He describes those who are under God's judgment. Woe, He said, to the Pharisees and the hypocrites. In each case, Jesus recognized their external righteousness and obedience, but condemned them because it went no deeper. They obeyed the letter of the law, but missed the spirit of it. One of Jesus' pictures is particularly vivid: imagine being told to wash a cup, and washing the outside, while leaving the inside dirty. Perhaps you technically followed instructions, but you obviously did not do what the person wanted.

It is easy enough for us to do something that looks like obedience or holiness, but God is clearly not impressed. Jesus’ words against the Pharisees are strong, going so far as to compare the Pharisees to tombs – beautiful on the outside, but full of death. There is no good kind of sin, whether subtle or flagrant, but there is something especially dangerous about hypocrisy. If someone is caught up in major sin, the are often aware of their sinfulness and are willing to seek desperation. The hypocrite is just as sinful, but has convinced herself (and sometimes other people) that she does not need repentance or forgiveness.

A good doctor does not treat the symptoms of a disease without curing the underlying problem; pain, fever or swelling is useful, because it lets us know that there is a problem. There is no one whose condition is so helpless as the one who does not realize they are sick. God is not satisfied with reforming the outside, or with our own efforts to look good, but with the condition of our hearts. When He changes our hearts through faith in Jesus, everything on the outside will follow.

Discussion idea: Have you ever done something because of how it would look to other people? Why is this kind of temptation so powerful for us?
Prayer focus: Pray for God to search our hearts, and help us to see our hidden faults for Him to forgive and cleanse.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Matthew 22

Key Verse: Matthew 22:40
Big Idea: The whole Law of God’s Kingdom is built on love.

One of my favorite snacks is stovetop popcorn. Pouring the oil, salt and corn into the Whirly Pop and cranking it while unimpressive kernels become beautiful vessels for butter is a very soothing ritual. I also love spicy food, so one of my favorite things to do for popcorn is to add Julio’s seasoning mix and Tabasco sauce. If everything is not just right, the Tabasco will caramelize on the bottom of the pan, and instead of having popcorn that is lightly spicy throughout, you will have dark little chunks of spice, where the sauce has condensed. Those little chunks are salty and spicy - they are Tabasco sauce, intensified.

If you took the Bible, and boiled it down to its very essence, what would you have? Not animal sacrifices or elaborate rituals, which Hebrews says could never get to the real problem. Not holidays, that pointed forward to coming events or remembered past ones. When they were testing Him in our chapter, Jesus said you would have the greatest commandment: to love God with all of your heart, soul and mind. The second is of the same essence: love your neighbor as yourself. Boiled down, the essence of the Bible is love.

Both elements of the Bible have this same theme: the narrative of the Bible is the story of how, despite humanity’s rebellion, God’s love never stopped pursuing us, ultimately to a cross. The commandments of the Bible are all carried out by a person full of love. We do not murder or steal from those we love, and will not blaspheme or worship idols if we love God. The two commandments are of the same essence, because it is not possible for us to love God without loving our neighbor made in His image, and impossible for us to love our neighbor without the enabling love of God.

Discussion idea: How does love relate to each of the 10 commandments? (Exodus 20) Do you find it hardest to love God with your heart, your mind or your soul (your will/choices)? Why?

Prayer focus: Pray for the ability to recognize God’s love, and to respond with love for Him and each other.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Matthew 21

Key Verse: Matthew 21:44
Big Idea: The storyline of Scripture is the tragedy of how we failed to recognize our King, and the love story of how He pursued us anyway.

Matthew 21 is packed full of important information. It begins with the Triumphal Entry of Jesus, and so begins what is commonly called Holy Week - the week in Jerusalem that ended with Jesus in the tomb, the disciples scattered and the enemies of God seemingly triumphant. In future readings we will reflect on some of the other events described in this chapter, but today we are going to pay special attention to the parable in Matthew 21:33-46.

A man built a vineyard, and rented it out to people who would bring him the profits at the end of the season. When the servants went to collect the fruit, the tenants instead beat one, killed one and stoned one, refusing to give the landowner what was his. Incredibly, the master sent another group of servants (more this time) to give them another chance to comply. Although they had rebelled and even killed a servant, they were given another chance. But they chose the same path of rebellion again. Finally, the landowner decided that he would send his own son - at least they would respect him. Instead, they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Jesus had just given them a thumbnail sketch of human history generally, and Israel's in particular. God gave us this world, but instead of giving Him the fruit of it, we horded it for ourselves. He sent prophets and teachers to call people back to Himself, but they rejected Him time and time again. Finally, He sent His own Son to come and call the people to repentance, but for those who rejected His Son there was no further remedy. Every human being who has ever lived has taken God's blessings and used them in rebellion against Him (Romans 3:23), but God has been patient to give us more opportunities to recognize Him. Ultimately, there is one messenger who we either accept or reject, and if we do not choose Him, there are no more messengers of grace, only justice. Jesus is like a stone, which can either be the main cornerstone of the Temple, or a massive crushing boulder.

Discussion Idea: Have you ever done something kind for someone which they did not recognize? How did it make you feel? Why does God continue to reach out to us, even when we reject Him?
Prayer Focus: Pray for an awareness of God's will and rule in our lives today.

PS: I have tried to be diligent to keep these short and direct, but there is something deeper in this passage that I want to point out for the interested. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus had cleansed the Temple of the merchants, bringing its business to a halt. Then, He used a verse about the temple to refer to the people rejecting Himself. Jesus was already indicating that the physical Temple at Jerusalem's time was up and that He was the chief cornerstone of a new Temple - God would no longer dwell in the physical building, but when His people, gathered in His name, assembled together. It is our responsibility to not use that Temple like the moneychangers used the old Temple, for personal profit and pleasure, but to give God the fruit that He deserves. It is a little advanced, and may not be a good fit for your family, but is something to chew on.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Matthew 20

Key Verse: Matthew 20:16

Big Idea: Rewards in God’s Kingdom do not correspond to our expectations.

There is something powerful about a parable: a simple story to illustrate a profound truth grabs our attention when direct attention would often leave our minds wandering. It is no wonder that the Bible records so many of them: thirty seven, or about one-third of Jesus’ total teaching. The knee-jerk response to the parable of Matthew 20:1-16 is probably just as sharp for us today as it was in the first century. If you were doing chores all day, and your sibling threw in a few minutes as your parents pulled into the driveway, you would be incensed to get the same reward as they did. If you worked for your company for a year, and someone else came in to the same position for the holiday rush, but made your same salary, you would probably not be sending the boss a Christmas card. We have certain expectations of fairness, and get angry when those are not met.

But Jesus takes this expectation and turns it on its head. What right do we have  to be angry if someone else is treated generously, when we are treated fairly? Have we lost something because they have succeeded? Of course not, but the resentment remains.

In the spiritual realm, this is especially true. We compare ourselves to others, and want to delude ourselves into thinking that we are more worthy than they are. But God has already treated us more than fairly – He has given us grace when we deserved judgment, and made us part of His family when we had lived as rebels. If someone else comes to faith at the end of their life, can we criticize God for treating them generously, when we have already been loved so greatly? God does not see things the way that we do, and our expectations of cause and effect are all smothered by waves of grace.

Discussion idea: How does God’s salvation and generosity defy our expectations? Would we really want to be treated “fairly” by God?

Prayer focus: Let each family member talk about a time they are tempted to resent God’s way of dealing with people. Pray for God to help us to trust His generosity and faithful love.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Matthew 19

Key Verse: Matthew 19:26
Big Idea: God can demand the impossible, because He does the impossible.
The nineteenth chapter of Matthew is full of demands that seemed overwhelming to Jesus’ first hearers, and will seem overwhelming to us if we hear them clearly. A group came to Jesus asking what reasons would permit a man to divorce his wife? Jesus answered by going back to the original definition of marriage: God turning a man and a woman into one person. Such a union could not be broken casually, only when the other person had broken it already. The disciples, maybe half-joking, said it was better to not get married at all! Jesus told them that God gave some people a special gift of singleness, but that those who chose to marry must stay married no matter how they felt. That kind of demand must have seemed impossible.
Later, a wealthy young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus listed the fourth through the ninth commandments (Ex. 20) and the summary commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Enthusiastically, the rich young ruler claimed that he had done all of these things his whole life and asked what else he needed to do. Jesus said: sell everything he had, give the money to the poor and come follow Jesus. To the rich young ruler this seemed impossible, and he went away sorrowful. 
We know that people are saved by recognizing our sinfulness and trusting Jesus, not by selling all of our stuff. But Jesus used this as way to demonstrate that the rich young ruler had violated the tenth commandment, the one Jesus had not mentioned: Thou shalt not covet. When the man was gone, Jesus told the disciples that it was difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom. The disciples, expecting that someone who was rich and successful must be exceptionally blessed by God, asked how anyone could be saved if a rich person could not. Jesus agreed with them: it is impossible for anyone to be saved! But God is in the impossible business.
No part of the Christian life can be accomplished in our own power, it is simply impossible for a human being to live up to Jesus’ standards. Thankfully, we do not have to do it in human power, but in the power of the God who raises the dead and makes stars with His voice. With Him, the impossible is possible. 
Older kids: Why did Jesus challenge the ruler calling Him good, when He was sinless? Probably for the same reason Jesus told people not to call Him the Christ until He died on the cross. They would use the term, without understanding what it meant.  
Discussion idea: If Jesus asked you to give something up to follow Him, what would seem impossible? How does a better understanding of God help us see that He makes all things possible?
Prayer focus: Pray that we will see things in their proper perspective. Our problems that seem insurmountable or temptations that seem overwhelming are nothing before God’s might and wisdom.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Matthew 18

Key Verse: Matthew 18:22
Big Idea: We have been forgiven more than we could ever need to forgive.
In our chapter for today, Jesus tells a parable so vivid that it almost requires no explanation. A slave owes a stupendous debt of 10,000 talents, which is so absurd in its value that it could be paraphrased something like “a million bars of gold.” A talent was a unit of weight of about 100 pounds, and 10,000 talents of gold would have taken a day laborer over two hundred thousand years to repay. His master graciously forgives him the debt, and then he goes out and finds a man that owns him 3 or 4 months of wages. Not a small sum, but nothing in comparison to the debt which had been pardoned. He took him by the neck and threatened to throw him into prison if he did not repay the debt immediately.
The scene is simple and absurd. How could someone who had been forgiven so much be so ungrateful as to refuse to forgive others. This is Jesus’ answer to how often we must forgive our brother who sins against us: always. He says it in different ways (seventy times seven times, ten thousand talents worth), but the picture is clear.
God is the one that we sin against whenever we sin (Psalm 51), using the minds, bodies and mouths He gave us in rebellion against Him. If we have placed our faith in Jesus, we have been forgiven so much and at such great cost, that we are like the slave who owed 10,000 talents. We have been forgiven more than we could ever dream of repaying, and it is the height of ingratitude for us to withhold that same forgiveness from others. Their sin against us may be great, but it is nothing compared to what Jesus has done for us. 
Discussion idea: Why is it so hard for us to forgive, even though we know how much we love being forgiven?
Prayer focus: Pray for the perspective to see people the way that God does, and be quick to forgive like He is.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Matthew 17

Key Verse: Matthew 17:26
Big Idea: God’s children have freedom, but God gives us the resources to go beyond what is required of us.

Matthew 17 is a big chapter. Jesus is transfigured, casts out a demon and promises that if the disciples have faith like a mustard seed, they will be able to move mountains. Throughout the course of the year, we will look at each of these things, but today we are focused on something unique to Matthew: the paying of the temple tax. Every free Jewish man was required to pay an annual tax of two denarii (each worth a day of manual labor) for the maintenance of the temple, in addition to their tithes and Roman taxes.

Some tax collectors came to Peter and asked something like: “Your master pays the temple tax, doesn’t he?” Peter, without consulting with Jesus, said  “Of course!” When he returned to the house, Jesus, showing supernatural knowledge, asked him a question about whether princes needed to pay taxes or not. Of course, it was the other people who had to pay taxes, not the royal household. Jesus, as God’s Son, is then exempt from paying the temple tax, but to prevent being a stumbling block to the tax collectors, Jesus will make a payment. God’s children are free from certain man made regulations, but we are not exempt from the debts of love. Rather than stand up for His rights on principle, Jesus stands up for the tax collectors on compassion.

But Jesus and the apostles were not rich. They travelled from place to place, dependent on the kindness of the people they reached. They did not have an abundance of money to cover this tax. But Jesus announces that Peter is to go fishing and will find a single fish with enough money in its mouth to cover Jesus’ tax and (in a comic twist) Peter’s too. To try and put this into perspective, a day laborer today might expect to make $100 to $120. The temple tax would be something like $250. Jesus tells Peter to go fishing, and he will find a fish with a $500 bill in its mouth.

God expects us to go beyond what can rightly be demanded of us, but He also is the one who provides us with the resources we need to do it. Peter and Jesus would pay a tax they did not owe for the sake of the tax collectors, but would do it through a miraculous provision of a valuable coin in the mouth of a fish. When we trust God, He supplies all of our needs.

Discussion idea: Have you ever had an opportunity to choose between what you had to do and what you could do?
Prayer focus: Pray for the kind of love that Jesus had, that we will go above and beyond what we must do, for the sake of the gospel.

Matthew 16

Big Idea: God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus.

Key Verse: Matthew 16:17

Jesus took His disciples near a city called Caeserea Phillipi and asked them who people thought He was. Peter, as the spokesman for the group, offered various identifications of Jesus as one of the different prophets resurrected. But Jesus moved to a much more important question when He asked them “But who do you say that that I am?”

Peter’s answer was bold and correct: “You are the Christ/the Messiah and the Son of the Living God.” Jesus’ response was surprising: Simon son of Jonah was a blessed man, because He was not offering human answers, but the answer given to Him by God the Father. God had chosen to reveal who He was to Peter, by introducing Peter to Jesus. Jesus promised that this confession in Him was the rock on which He would build His church, which would never be overcome.

Older kids: The Romans had built a temple to worship Caesar Augustus in the city the disciples were overlooking. Jesus was presenting His disciples with a choice: who would they confess as lord? Within a few decades of Jesus’ death, Christians would be executed for refusing to worship Caesar. While individual Christians might lose their lives, the institution of the Church would persist on this rock.

Younger kids: Christ was not Jesus’ name, but His title. Christ Jesus and Jesus Christ are comparable to saying King George or George the King.

We are in the same position as Peter, because that church Jesus built has continued through the ages. Sometimes His churches were in hiding, sometimes they were strong, sometimes they were many and sometimes they were few, but they continued confessing His name and were never overcome. Like Peter, this is not a human triumph, but a divine one. We could never know what this King is like by our own reasoning or strength, but we know who He is because He has come and revealed Himself to us. We do not need to wonder what God is like, because He has shown us who He is by becoming a man and dying on the cross for us. We could never climb up to Him, but in love, He has come down to us.

Discussion idea: How does the way God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus give us confidence in good times and bad? How does Jesus’ promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church encourage us to be bold even in the face of loss?

Prayer focus
: Pray that, just as God reveals Himself to us when it is time to be saved, that He would continue to reveal His will for our lives to us as we learn more about Jesus.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Matthew 15

Key verse: Matthew 15:28

Big Idea: Faith is the defining boundary of the people of God.

Matthew introduces us to a woman with a demon possessed daughter by describing her as a woman of Canaan. Canaanite was not a current term in Jesus' day, but was well known to the Jews as the old name for the pagan nations that the Israelites had expelled from the land. Matthew using this term to describe her, as Jesus was on the outskirts of Gentile territory, was clearly deliberately loaded language. The historic enemy of God's people was coming up and asking Jesus for help; how would He respond?

Jesus did not respond the way that we would expect. He ignored this woman's pleas. It must have seemed like a hard posture from this One who was so loving, but she persisted.  The disciples came and asked Jesus to go ahead and heal her so she would go away., but He announced that it was not right to give the children's bread to the dogs. If silence was cold, this was seemingly cruel. How could Jesus - the lamb that takes away the sin of the world who had already healed a centurion's servant - treat her like this?

But still, she persisted, and said that even the dogs got the children's crumbs. She simultaneously expressed her own unworthiness and her confidence in Jesus' super abundant resources. Then, Jesus praised her for her faith and healed her daughter with a word. Jesus put her through a painful circumstance to draw out her faith, and when it had been revealed rewarded her dramatically. Although Jesus' ministry before his crucifixion was as the Messiah of Israel, He kept one eye on the greater plan to build a new people, not marked by food, clothes or ancestry but by faith.

Discussion idea: How does God use painful circumstances to shape us into the people He wants for us to be?

Prayer focus: Pray for us to see God's love, even when His hands are firm.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Matthew 14

Big Idea: The victory of God’s Kingdom may seem delayed, but it is certain.
Key Verse: Matthew 14:9
We live in an instant society. We pull into a hamburger restaurant and complain that the lunch which would have taken us half an hour to make at home takes nearly ten minutes. Our impatience with minor inconveniences is multiplied many times over when we are forced to realize that we cannot put God on our timetable. He will accomplish His will in His time, and His view of perfect timing might be quite different than our own. 

John the Baptist had done everything right. He answered God’s call to preach, baptized myriads of people, proclaimed the identity of Jesus as the Lamb of God and ultimately been thrown into prison for calling out the sins of the powerful. He had sent word to Jesus, asking whether He was the promised Messiah, and Jesus had called John the best man ever born of woman. Yet, this Messiah who raised the dead and healed the lame did not break John out of prison. The Messiah that he placed his faith in continued to teach and preach while John sat in prison. John was executed with Herod still on the throne, his faith in a coming kingdom still unrealized.

Of course, John’s faith was not misplaced, and Jesus’ Kingdom will be established. God has not fallen asleep or abandoned His promises, He simply is not bound by our ideas of expediency. We might not see God’s promises fulfilled in our entire lifetime, but we can know by faith that they will be.

Older kids: Ask the kids about the fear of death, and how it affects our ability to trust God with what happens after we draw our last breath. It is only possible with the security of salvation and eternal life.

Younger kids: Talk to younger kids about a time when they were impatient, but eventually got what they needed. 

Discussion idea: How do you think John the Baptist could reconcile the idea that Jesus was the true King of Israel with the fact that Herod was still on the throne?

Prayer focus: Pray for the kind of faith in the middle of struggles that gives us real patience.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Matthew 13

Key Verse: Matthew 13:30

Big Idea: Different people will grow at their own pace and in their own way, but the spark of life that Jesus puts in us will grow and change us from the inside out.

It is the time of year when many people begin making preparations for a vegetable garden. Unfortunately for the impatient among us, there is a long time between golden seed and bright red tomato. The beginning and the end product seem very different, and yet there is a continuity: the life of the seed will develop into the life of the plant, and then the life of the fruit. Tomatoes will grow in their time and with their own level of production, peppers in a different way and okra in still another, but if the plant’s roots took hold and it is given the proper nourishment, it will grow.

Some of the best known parables of Jesus come from agriculture, and probably none is better known than the parable of the sower. The message of the parable is simple: the life that God gives will grow slowly and steadily, if it has taken root, and although some people will bear more fruit than others, God’s power will shine through.  

Another parable at the end of the chapter gives an important warning: like wheat and tares are hard to distinguish until they have fully grown, sometimes the true and the false cannot be distinguished until the harvest. We cannot judge another person’s relationship with God from outward appearances, because sometimes those that seem to be the strongest at the beginning have no roots, and those that seem to be delayed will eventually bring a great harvest. The only thing we can do is look in our own hearts for signs of life, and nurture that life so it can carry out its natural function: more life!

Discussion idea: A seed can only become a new plant by dying. How does our bearing fruit for Jesus’ Kingdom require us to “die”? Different plants bear different amounts and kinds of fruit, how does that parallel the differences in our Christian lives?
Prayer focus: Pray that we will see people with the kind of patient love that God does, while still remaining faithful to the fact that only the seed og the gospel can give life.  

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Matthew 12

Key Verse: Matthew 12:7
Big Idea: Jesus looks for an obedience that goes beyond the superficial.

When Jesus and His disciples were walking on the Sabbath day, the disciples reached out and picked some grain to eat. Although this was permitted under the Sabbath law (Deuteronomy 23:25), the oral law of Jesus’ day (an elaborate set of traditions that expanded on the Old Testament) forbade it. The Pharisees came to Jesus and challenged him about this, and His response is very interesting.

Rather than challenging the validity of the oral law directly, Jesus makes three comparisons. (1) King David broke the letter of the law by taking the shewbread from the Temple when he was on the run from King Saul, (2) the priests violated the Sabbath because their temple duties outweighed the prohibition of work on Saturday and (3) he explained that if they understood that God wanted mercy more than sacrifice, they would have not have condemned the disciples.

Implicit in these comparisons is Jesus’ superiority to (1) the temple, (2) the Sabbath and (3) King David. While people could experience God’s presence serving in the Temple, Jesus’ disciples were serving God come down in human flesh – the perfect temple, not build by human hands. Although the Sabbath  gave people a kind of rest from work, Jesus was the one who promised total, perfect rest from work – by being justified by faith in Christ alone, not in what we do. King David was a good ruler who united the people, but Jesus is the eternal King who reigns over all the earth.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were obsessed with obedience to the shadows and symbols, while missing the main thing. They were careful in their obedience to the specific instructions of the Bible while missing the nature of the very heart of God. God wants to transform us at the most fundamental level with His love, and seeking to satisfy Him with ritualistic observance misses the point entirely. He wants mercy, not sacrifice.

Discussion idea: Why was it easier for the Pharisees to keep hundreds of elaborate rules than to embrace the simplicity of a transformed heart?

Prayer focus: Pray for an awareness of the beauty of worshiping God in the person of Jesus, rather than at any physical building.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Matthew 11

Key Verse: Matthew 11:6

Big Idea: Jesus was patient with John’s sincere questions, but His ministry proved who He was.
John the Baptist had been arrested for preaching the truth about King Herod’s sinful marriage, and the stillness of jail clearly gave him plenty of time to think. He had identified Jesus as the One who would take away the sins of the world, but the world seemed very much like it always had. A wicked king continued in his sin, while an innocent man sat in chains, ultimately to be executed.

He sent a messenger to ask Jesus “Are you the One?” He was second guessing himself because things were not going the way that he expected. But he ws still ready to take Jesus at His word. Rather than a simple yes or no, Jesus told the messenger to describe His ministry to John: the blind, the lame, the deaf and the lepers were being healed and the poor were receiving the good news. No direct answer was necessary because God’s Kingdom was breaking into the old order, tearing down the things that were wrong. From 2020, we have an even greater evidence: when Jesus died on the cross in our place and rose again the third day, He proved undeniably that He was the one who would reverse the curse of sin once and for all.

Although John struggled with this period of doubt, Jesus praised him as the greatest man who had ever been born of woman. Although the least of those in the Kingdom has a position of greater honor than John, he was given the unique privilege of being a prophet and more than a prophet – a fulfillment of prophecy.

It is a great encouragement for us to remember that although Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes for their refusal to believe, he delt tenderly with John when he wanted to believe, and just needed the reassurance of the Master. At the end of the chapter, Jesus prayed and thanked the Father for not revealing Himself to the elites, but to the humble. What an honor it is for us to be given the chance to receive the message that John preached, and to enter into the Kingdom he foretold.

Discussion Idea: Why did Jesus praise John even when he asked for reassurance? How does this affect the way we should think about our own struggles with faith?

Prayer focus: In Mark 9, a man with a demon-possessed son came to Jesus and prayed: “I believe, help thou my unbelief!” Pray that God would take the mustard seed of our faith, and grow it into a mighty tree for His glory.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Matthew 10

Key Verse: Matthew 10:31
Before beginning any job, it is important to make sure you have the right tools. A chef lines out the ingredients before he begins cooking and an artist makes sure she has the appropriate brushes and colors before starting on her canvas. If we were going to launch a military invasion, we would probably want guns, tanks and airplanes. But what are the tools that we need to carry out Christ’s great commission? In Matthew 10, Jesus tells us.

He told the disciples (Matthew 10:7-11) not to worry about money, special clothing or even extra shoes, but to simply carry their message with them: repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven is arriving. How would they eat and where would they stay? Jesus told them that in each town they went to, they should look for someone to receive them. No reservations, no sense of security – just faith.

Jesus warned that they could be certain of persecution, but that there was no reason to prepare a defense speech in advance. In the very moment of the trial, the Holy Spirit would speak through them (10:18-21). The tools that we need to carry out the job that God has given us are his Spirit and His Word: everything else is an optional accessory.

Older Kids: Jesus predicted that parents and children would turn each other over to be executed for following Jesus. Take a minute to let older kids think about how even if they could not serve Jesus with their own family, He would be all they need. It is certainly easier for them, with you faithfully doing things like prayer and Bible reading with them!

How can we step out on faith, to believe that Jesus is the only tool we need in our hands? Jesus’ analogy is powerful. The tiniest bird does not fall to the ground without God allowing it. If God loves us enough that He knows how many hairs are on our head, won’t He watch over us even more carefully than the sparrows?

Discussion Idea: What are some things we might think we need to follow Jesus’ instructions for us? How can God provide those things for us as we go?
Prayer focus: Pray that we will recognize that God has already given us everything we need, so we can lay our excuses aside and obey Him in faith.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Matthew 9

Key Verse: Matthew 9:6

Big Idea: Jesus performed His miracles to demonstrate His royal authority.

The beginning of Matthew 9 gives us an incredible picture of the authority of Jesus. A paralyzed man was brought to Jesus on a stretcher, desperate for help. Jesus looked at him, but did not heal him right away. Instead, He said “I see your faith – and I forgive your sins.”

Two things stand out about this: Jesus not healing and Jesus forgiving. Jesus not healing shows priority. The heart is much more important than the body. Jesus forgiving shows authority. God is the one who will judge us for our sins, and so only God can take them away.

The Pharisees respond correctly, if Jesus is not God, how can He claim to forgive sins? Jesus then demonstrates that He truly is God, by commanding the man to rise up and be healed. While the prophets of old might have healed, but this was different. When Jesus forgave the man, and then performed a miracle, this was God’s proof that Jesus was truly His Son.
The people marveled, but did not recognize that He is God. Instead, they marvel that God have such power to human beings. Pharisees understand, but do not worship. Only those who are truly Jesus’ disciples will do both - recognize who He is and accept Him.

How do the Pharisees explain away this miracle that they see? We do not find out until the end of the chapter, when they claim that He casts out demons by the power of the Devil. They know He has power, but do not recognize His legitimate authority. They do not recognize the King.

Discussion idea: Do you think there was any miracle Jesus could do which would have persuaded the Pharisees? Why? 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.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Matthew 8

Key Verse:Matthew 8:3

Big Idea: Jesus was accepted by the unexpected.

Matthew 8 is the story of an invasion force. The rightful King has returned, but He finds his people oppressed and enslaved by the wicked slavemaster Sin and his lackies of Disease, Suffering and Death. People are in rebellion and nature itself is cursed.

The first scene in the chapter is especially vivid. Lepers were people with a horrible skin disease, uncurable in the ancient world, which would cause gaping sores and a loss of sensation, which often led to severe injury. Under the Old Testament law, anyone who touched a leper became ceremonially unclean: quarantined until they could be verified to be cleaned. Like germs on your hands, when someone unclean touched something clean, it contaminated it. This leper knelt before Jesus and asked to be healed, and Jesus touched Him to heal Him. The normal process is perfectly reversed: instead of the uncleanness transferring to Jesus, His cleanness translates to the leper. After years of crippling disease, the first touch He feels is that of Jesus. Disease and suffering retreat and the King’s rightful rule continues to grow.

Jesus healed the servant of a Roman soldier, cast out demons and healed the sick. On  storming sea, His disciples were afraid, but He spoke a Word and the sea responded to its King. A legion (roughly 5000 in Roman military parlance) of demons are expelled by Jesus and allowed to go into a herd of pigs, yet the people are afraid of Him and ask Him to leave.

Older kids: Pigs were unclean animals. Just as Jesus removed the uncleanness from the leper with His own cleanness, the uncleanness of the demons was quarantined in the unclean animals and cast into the sea, removed from the land of the people.
The King has arrived, and is recognized by the unlikeliest people, while those who ought to recognize Him and worship miss Him entirely. There is no one so bad that God cannot forgive them, but no one so good that they do not need to be redeemed. It does not matter who we are or what we’ve done, what matters is what we do with Jesus.

Discussion idea: Why do you think it was harder for the religious elites to to recognize Jesus than for the more obvious sinners?

Prayer focus: Pray for God to help us see people the way that He does, as needing grace, but finding it readily available because of the love of Jesus.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Matthew 7

Key Verse: Matthew 7:24

Big Idea: Following Jesus builds your life upon the solid rock.

Imagine trying to push something heavy while standing in thick mud. The harder you push the deeper you sink, while the object remains unmoved. No matter how much you slip and slide, you will not be able to accomplish anything without a firm footing.

In the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus issues a series of warnings about the hypocritical life. It begins with the vivid word picture of trying to remove a speck from your brother’s eye with a log sticking out of your own, warns about false prophets, who are like wolves in sheep costumes, and describes how a rotten tree will ultimately be revealed by its fruit.

If we try to do good things without a relationship with Jesus, we are like a person standing in the mud or a rotten tree with fruit taped on it.When there are no roots, there will be no significance. So Jesus tells a story about a man who builds his house on a rock. The rain and wind come and beat on the house, but all of its significance stands because the foundation holds. A house built without a foundation collapses catastrophically.

If we trust Jesus as our Savior and follow Him, everything else in our life is given strength by the solid foundation. Those roots, deep in the heart, give everything else a firm footing. Without that foundation laid first, everything else is nothing but smoke, disappearing as quickly as it comes.

Discussion idea
: How can we stand on the solid rock when the storms of life are raging?

Prayer focus
: Pray for God to help us prioritize the foundation, and build our life on Him.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Matthew 6

Key Verse: Matthew 6:1

Big Idea: The rewards of following Jesus are seen by faith.

When little babies play peek-a-boo, their brains do not understand that you still exist, even when they cannot see you. They get anxious when they are alone and are surprised and delighted when you remove a teddy bear that was blocking your face. Even though we grow out of this exteme form, we spend our whole lives tied to what we can see.

Sometimes, people do something kind (like give money to the poor), only so they can tell other people about it. They want the likes and the retweets as a kind of instant reward for their good behavior. Jesus told His disciples that if this is the reward they want, it is the only reward they will have; they should not expect God to reward them for those corrupt motivations. They  have their reward already.

Older kids: Point out Matthew 6:19-20. What is the long term fate of their most prized possessions on earth?

Jesus invites His disciples to spend their lives on something they cannot see, laying up for themselves treasures in Heaven, instead of on Earth. If we are going to follow Jesus, we will need a motivation that only faith can provide. He is good and true, even when we cannot trace out how He is accomplishing His will.

Discussion idea: Imagine the disciples talking the morning after Jesus died. They gave up and thought all was lost, because they could not see with the eyes of faith. How can we practice seeing with faith, and what keeps us from doing so?

Prayer focus: Pray for God to open our eyes to the reality that the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are unseen are forever.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Matthew 5

Key verse: Matthew 5:20

Big Idea:  Jesus’ Kingdom is not on the surface, but in the heart.

The Pharisees were professional do-gooders. They not only kept the Old Testament, but their own oral law that added hundreds of additional requirements. Consumed with displays of righteousness, they were defined by their apparent holiness, but in the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount (which will continue through chapter 7), Jesus told His disciples that unless their righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, they could not enter the Kingdom of God.

How could their righteousness go beyond people like that? Obviously not by doing more good things. Their righteousness does not need to go farther, but deeper. Jesus explained to the disciples that if they hated, it was like murdering, because God looks at the heart. If they were going to be a light for the world, and salt to preserve it, they would need to follow Him from the inside out.
Sometimes, we might say we are sorry on the outside, while fuming on the inside. This kind of thing might fool some people, but will not impress God. The reign of Jesus is so complete that it must touch every part of us. What better model of radical love is there than the One who gave His life to change ours?

Discussion idea: Have you ever done the right thing for the wrong reasons? How does the call to obey Jesus from the inside call us to greater righteousness than just keeping a set of rules?

Prayer focus: Jesus calls us to go the extra mile, stepping past what can reasonably be expected of us and to make a move of pure love. Pray for an opportunity to see people the way that Jesus sees them, and for God to direct you to a random act of kindness today.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Matthew 4

Key Verse: Matthew 4:19

Big Idea: Jesus the King came to call people to build a kingdom, not of swords and castles, but of people.

Sometimes, everything changes in an instant. Peter and Andrew were throwing a net into the sea, the familiar smells and sounds of the busy lake all around them. They had been fishermen their entire lives, their sons would be fishermen, and their sons after them. Their lives must have seemed so predictable, but they also knew things were changing. Peter and Andrew had been baptized by John, and knew the One He had preached about who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
They never could have dreamed that their whole lives would never be the same, because that One would walk up to them and say “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people!”

At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days, and was offered all kinds of physical things: food, pride and political power. But Jesus quoted the Bible each time, to show that His Kingdom would be a different kind of Kingdom. It was not about visible greatness, but about a Kingdom built in the Spirit out of men, women, boys and girls. This Kingdom would not be won with guns or swords, but with the Word of God and His power.

Older kids: Point out how the Crusades and other attempts to force people to become Christians missed the whole point, because God’s reign has to be accomplished on the inside.
Jesus was launching an invasion. He was breaking down the enemy strongholds of sickness, sin and, ultimately, death.

Discussion idea
: How do Christians or churches sometimes get caught up in the temptation to build a physical kind of Kingdom?

Prayer focus
: Whenever Jesus was tempted, He quoted the Bible. Pray for a commitment to Bible reading and prayer, to have the equipment needed to do the work to which Jesus has called us.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Matthew 3

Key Verse: Matthew 3:3

Big Idea: John the Baptist came to prepare the pieces for Jesus the King.

Most of us are the heroes of our own stories. We think we are the most important people around and look at who can serve us. Maybe you invite the people to a party who you think will bring the best gifts, or who will invite you back. John the Baptist sets a very different example: he knew that he was not the main event, but just the appetizer, getting things ready for the real King. He began preaching about the responsibility to turn away from their sin (repent) because the King was coming soon.
The people who believed what he taught were baptized: buried in the water and pulled up again in a picture of how their old life had died and been raised again by God. Baptism did not change them (John sent people away who had not already been changed), but it made their change public. Among those baptized were all 12 of Jesus’ disciples, the raw materials He would take to build His first church.

One day, a Man came who was not like the others. He did not have any sins of which to repent, but had been perfect His entire life. He was the one that John had been getting everyone ready for. John knew that Jesus did not need to be baptized, but Jesus asked to be baptized anyway, so He could be the model for His followers. As Jesus came up out of the water, God’s voice from Heaven announced that this was His Son – the heir of the Kingdom. John continued to work, but His purpose of preparing the pieces for the King’s ministry was completed when He prepared the King Himself.

Discussion idea: Who are some people who have helped prepare you to succeed?

Prayer Focus: Have younger kids think about a time they were selfish, and older kids and adults consider patterns of selfishness in their lives. What desires, temptations or situations make us self-centered? Pray for us to see ourselves the way that John saw himself, as a piece in a much bigger puzzle.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Matthew 2

Key Verse: Matthew 2:2

Big Idea: Jesus has always divided people. Even when He was still a child, people had one of two responses: worship or hatred.

Probably a little under two years after Jesus’ birth, a group of stargazers from the East came to worship Jesus. They saw a special star in the sky, and apparently familiar with some Old Testament prophecies, decided to come and see the King of the Jews. We do not know how many there were, but we know they brought three gifts: gold and two expensive scents (frankincense, which was burned, and myrrh, an oily perfume). Like the queen of Sheba had come to honor King David (1 Kings 10:1-10), these men come to recognize His heir. But on the way, they meet the current king of Israel, the wicked King Herod who, instead of going to worship the true King, sends the magi (or wise men) to find out where Jesus is, so Herod can try to destroy Him.

Older Kids: Matthew 2 tells us that Herod had all of the babies under the age of 2 in the vicinity of Bethlehem killed. Herod was well known for his viciousness, killing even his own children when he thought they wanted his power.

There is no neutral reaction to any King. Either you recognize their authority and serve them, or you rebel against them. Jesus came as the authority that would replace all others, even the two that enslaved the whole world: sin and death.  

Discussion idea: Why was Herod so afraid of Jesus’ claim to authority? How do people respond today to the idea that Jesus is King?

Prayer Focus: Have each family member write down (or draw a picture for younger kids) about how they have resisted Jesus’ kingship instead of worshiping Him. When everyone has written it down, take a moment to pray for forgiveness and the strength to follow Him too. You might want to pile the papers together to burn them, as a reminder of the assurance of God’s forgiveness and a picture of the star the wise men followed.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Matthew 1

Key verse: Matthew 1:21

Big Idea: The coming of Jesus is both something old and something new: he is the climax of what God has been doing from the beginning of time, and a new, one-of-a-kind gift from Heaven.

Your eyes may start to glaze over when you see Matthew beginning with a bunch of “begats.” Isn’t the New Testament supposed to be more interesting than this? But there is a good reason that the Holy Spirit chose to begin this way. Jesus is not plan B – He is the culmination of all the Old Testament events.

Jesus is fully man and fully God. As a full man, He was born into a family with a history (good and bad). He did not spring onto the stage of history at random, but onto a chessboard carefully prepared by God from the beginning of history.

Point out to older kids: The names in this genealogy are far from spotless. Among others, Judah’s sin in Genesis 38 is referenced, Rahab had been a prostitute in Jericho (Joshua 2), and David murdered Uriah to cover up his affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). 
As full God, Jesus was more than just the next step in what God was doing. God Himself was coming down, born as Mary’s child, to do what no human being could ever do: save us from our sins.
Jesus, because He is human, was able to die instead of His people. Jesus, because He is God, was able to rise again victorious, to save everyone who calls on His name.

Discussion idea: Do you recognize any of the names on this list? What can you remember about them?      
Prayer focus: Let each family member talk about how God has used their family to prepare them to be the person He wants them to be and pray to thank God for both the good things and the challenges that have made this possible.