Key verse: Genesis 25:23
Big idea: In the beginning, God revealed His people.
A lot happens in Genesis 22. The main instrument of God's plan for redeeming the world, Abraham, dies like all of his ancestors before him. He joined his wife Sarah, who had died several years earlier. Before his own death, he gave gifts to the children of the woman he married after Sarah (Keturah) and left Isaac alone as his proper heir. God's promise would not be stopped by Abraham's death, but God was also not yet finished narrowing the focus of His efforts. He chose Seth of the children of Adam, Shem of the children of Noah, and now Isaac among the children of Abraham. God is still not finished.
Isaac's wife, Rebekah, was pregnant with twins that struggled even in the womb. God announced that, against the conventions of normal inheritance, the elder would serve the younger. When the Lord chose Abraham, He did not select a great nation to be made greater, but a barren couple to become a multitude. He does see as people see. Merely being born into the right class or even the right family is never enough to be part of God's people (Romans 9:7-13). Although both of them were sinners and neither deserved God's blessing, He chose Jacob over Esau to be His chosen one, carrying the line of promise forward.
Only one of Isaac's children will bear the promises God made to Abraham. From there, the faithful descendants of that entire nation will experience those blessings, until ultimately the promises are accomplished in One (2 Corinthians 1:20). By bringing His promise to pass through One Man, God then offered salvation to all the nations of the Earth. He rejected Ishmael as the heir in Genesis so that in Revelation, all the descendants of Esau who placed their faith in Christ would become children of God and joint-heirs with Jesus.
But Esau revealed his character by the end of the chapter. He traded the normal inheritance of the firstborn (a double-share) for a bowl of lentil stew. For Esau, the pleasure of a moment was worth more than his birthright. This same attitude that places the profane priorities of now over things of eternal consequence, leads many to reject God to this day (Hebrews 12:16). Even though Isaac did not deserve God's favor either, Esau's life showed that his heart was far from God. Still today, the distinguishing characteristic of God's people is that "we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)."
Discussion idea: Why do we have such a hard time trading the short-term for the long-term? How does suffering in the short-run sometimes lead to longer-term joy?
Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for your grace. You do not welcome us because of our strength, our ancestry, our wisdom, or even our goodness. Nothing we have could ever deserve the blessings you have given us or make up for our sin. You love us because of who You are, not because of who we are. You selected an insignificant nation and chose to bring Your Son into the world in one of the least of those families, so that those who trusted in this humble Savior would enjoy everlasting joy with you. Help me to live with that same mindset. Help me to share this good news with others.
Key verse: Matthew 17:24
Big Idea: In the Kingdom of Jesus, we are free, but God gives us the resources to go beyond our obligations.
Matthew 17 is a packed chapter. Jesus is transfigured, casts out a demon, and promises the disciples that with faith like a mustard seed they can move mountains. Later, we will look at each of these, but today we are focusing on an event unique to Matthew: the payment of the Temple tax. Every Jewish man was required to pay an annual tax of two drachmae (two days’ wages) for the maintenance of the Temple. Some of the tax collectors responsible for this particular obligation went to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?” Peter told them that He did without consulting Jesus and got out of Dodge.
When he returned to the house where they were staying, Jesus asked before Peter said a word: “What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?” As usual, Jesus knew what was on Peter’s heart and mind without a word. They discussed that tariffs were for strangers, and the children of the king were exempt. Likewise, the disciples of Jesus, as sons and daughters of God, serving the Living Temple, were exempt from the Temple tax. But here, Jesus took a very different approach than His disciples have in the millennia since. He did not emphasize His rights, but the privilege He had to avoid offense. They did not owe the Temple tax, but God would provide them the resources to pay it anyway. Not for Himself or Peter, but for the sake of the tax collectors! A fun twist to the story is that Jesus sent Peter to catch a fish that had a large coin in its mouth that would cover the fee for both of them. Peter had not paid his tax either (no wonder he did not stay to chat). But there was a fish with $500 in its mouth ready to be caught.
Our question as Christians can never be as minimal as, “What must I do?” We are free from many obligations, but love goes beyond duty. Love looks for opportunities to serve. It was not too long before that Jesus had taught about going the extra mile and giving more than was asked; now He is living it out. Peter and Jesus are no worse off for their generosity because when we walk with Him, God handles the details. When we go the extra mile in love and service, putting our rights on the backburner and the needs of others on the front, we will indeed be like our Father.
Discussion Idea: What are some ways that you can serve another person, but have not because it is “not my job?” How does the story of paying the Temple tax call us to deeper obedience?
Prayer Focus: Pray for God to open your eyes to a chance to show the love that goes beyond obligation: pure grace.