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.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

January 12 - Matthew 8

Key verse: And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. - Matthew 8:3

Big Idea: The Kingdom of Jesus was accepted by the unexpected.  

Matthew 8 returns to a reality that we considered back in chapter 4. It is the story of an invasion force: the rightful King has returned, and He finds his people oppressed and enslaved. People’s rebellion against God had them bound by sin, disease, suffering, and death. The chains were their own by birth, but they had also chosen them and were now unable to remove them. Who would Jesus use to build His Kingdom? Who would receive Him? The religious people and the upstanding citizens might be the ones we would expect, but no one deserved His mercy. Some were chained more grotesquely and visibly than others, but they were all prisoners.

Consider the lepers. Their horrible skin disease (incurable in the ancient world) led to open sores and a loss of sensation, which often resulted in severe injury. Under the Law of Moses, if they touched you, then you were unclean and quarantined until they were sure you were not infected. Uncleanness spread and contaminated everything it touched. This outcast is not who the elites expected to come to the Messiah. But he did come to Jesus, and when Jesus put His hand on the leprous skin, purity spread instead of uncleanness. After years of crippling disease, the first thing this man felt was the hand of the King. Suffering and impurity retreated at His arrival; joy and peace took their place.

After this, Jesus healed the servant of a Roman soldier, although the Romans were unclean Gentiles who oppressed the Israelites. He cast out demons, healed the sick, and even demonstrated His authority by ordering the sea itself to be still. A legion (a Roman military unit of about 5000) of demons recognized that He was the Lord and fled at His command. The unexpected received Him gladly, but how did others respond? His own disciples were afraid in the storm, not realizing who was in the boat with them. The residents of Gadara, where the legion of demons had possessed the man, were afraid of Jesus and “begged Him to go away and leave them alone.” There is a real paradox here: the ones who seemed the most promising turned from Him and the ones who were the most unlikely turned to Him.

The King has arrived. The rejects accepted Him, and the acceptable rejected Him. There is no one so righteous they do not need Him, and no one so wicked they cannot have Him. He did not call His people along standard social lines but received those who recognized their need of a Savior and accepted His grace.

Discussion Idea: Why was it easier for the blatant sinners to accept Jesus than the apparently righteous?

Prayer Focus: Pray for God to help us see people the way He does and to join Him in giving grace. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

January 11 - Matthew 7

Key verse: Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:" - Matthew 7:24

Big Idea: When we submit to Jesus the King, we build our lives on the solid rock.

When I was a teenager, I worked at a local horse ranch. I made a little money, but mostly I was paid in the lease of a beautiful Paint Horse. One evening, I was unloading bales of hay from the back of a pickup truck in the rain. I braced my foot on the toolbox and pushed when I learned that my foot was not as secure as I thought it was. Loose, wet hay on metal made a slick surface, and my Ariat boot went straight through the rear windshield. I think it cost my dad more to replace that window than I ever made working there. Hopefully, you have never had that exact experience, but you have probably tried to push something while standing in the mud. The more you struggle, the deeper you sink, and no amount of slipping and sliding will get you anywhere. You need a firm footing.  

In the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us about the hypocritical life. Jesus begins with a vivid word picture about trying to remove a speck from your brother’s eye with a log sticking out of your own. He goes on to describe wolves wearing sheepskin and the insanity of expecting a thornbush to grow grapes. Superficial change may fool some people for a while, but no amount of work will ever deceive the Lord on the Day of Judgment. 

He concludes the Sermon with a story about two houses. If we genuinely answer Christ’s call, we are like a wise man who dug deep and built his house on solid rock, unshaken by any storm. But if we do not, our life is a house built by a fool, which for all of its crown molding and fresh paint is founded on mud and is sure to collapse catastrophically. Jesus is not impressed by the behavior of a hypocrite with a rotten heart. He calls us to choose the narrow way of faith and transformation from within. Trying to do good deeds without a relationship with Jesus is like trying to push a hay bale out of a truck with insecure footing: a mess and a failure. It is like grapes falling into a thornbush, destined to rot without ever affecting the roots of the plant. But if our life is founded on a broken heart submitted to Him by faith, we will stand.

Discussion Idea: When we look at another person’s life, we cannot see the foundation. Could a person have a deep, solid foundation, but appear like a shack to others? How should that affect the way we evaluate other people’s lives?

Prayer Focus: The reality of our heart will inevitably be exposed eventually. Ask God to help you have the humility to recognize it and the wisdom to repair it with His strength. 

Monday, January 10, 2022

January 10 - Matthew 6

Key verse: Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven." Matthew 6:1

Big Idea: Rewards in the Kingdom of Jesus are seen by faith.

When we are very young, our brains do not understand that objects are permanent. As you play peek-a-boo with an infant, they do not realize that you exist anymore and are terrified when you leave the room. If they cannot see you, how can they know you are still there? In a literal sense, we outgrow this quickly. By the time a healthy child is a year old, they know that you are still there, even if a teddy bear is in the way. But in another sense, I do not think we ever get over it. Part of being sin-entangled human beings means that we are always obsessed with what we can see and, perhaps even more dangerously, by what others can see. It is not much of a surprise, then, that Jesus spends the middle third of the Sermon on the Mount warning us against the idolatry of the tangible.

Jesus warns us about two manifestations of this idolatry. The first is pride in our works. It is easy for us to forget who the audience of our good works is. We have all seen missionary tourism pictures, and some of us have taken them. A social media post that says,  “Pray for Carlos, I got to share the gospel with him today!” may be genuine, or it may be a subtle way of flaunting our holiness. Jesus’ examples are remarkably up to date. When we give to the poor as a gift to God, He will repay us. But if we are doing it for the attention of other people, that is all the reward we will get. Prayer and praise are precious when addressed to God, but if they are just begging for the approval of people, we have our reward. It is frightening to think that even our best moments could be so corrupted. As Jesus says in verse 23: “And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”

The latter form seems contradictory at first, but they are two sides of the same coin. Anxiety about our daily needs replaces confidence in the blessings of God with the help we can count and touch. We trade our good Father for the cruel master of Mammon and rob ourselves of the contentment of resting in love. God has proven His faithfulness by clothing the flowers and feeding the birds: won’t He care for us? If He has given us His very Son – is He going to withhold material things? The thought is absurd. We should not worry about what we are going to eat or wear; our Father is rich, even when we cannot see His storehouses.

Discussion Idea: In ministry, we often see these two idolatries combined. We want our good works to be seen by those who can write checks or volunteer because we do not trust God to meet our needs. How does confidence in God provide peace and motivation?

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would open our eyes to see the unseen, and to trust Him with the unknown.

Friday, January 7, 2022

January 7 - Matthew 5


Chapter: Matthew 5

Key verse: For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20

Big idea: The reign of Jesus the King is not on the surface but in the heart.

What does it take to be good enough? The Pharisees were professional do-gooders. They not only kept the Old Testament but added hundreds of additional requirements through their oral law. They were continually making displays of righteousness with scrupulous obedience, public prayers, and acts of charity. Yet, in the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount (which will continue through chapter 7), Jesus told His disciples that it was not enough. If their righteousness did not go beyond the purity of the scribes and the Pharisees, they could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

How could their righteousness go beyond people like that? Obviously not by doing more good things than they did. Their righteousness did not need to be broader but deeper. Through the beatitudes at the beginning of the chapter, Jesus taught His disciples that they could not just make minor adjustments to the way everyone else lived; their entire value system needed flipping upside down. If they hated, their heart was the heart of a murderer. If they lusted, their heart was the heart of an adulterer. Simple external obedience was not enough. The only righteousness that matters to God is the righteousness that goes all the way to the heart.

It goes beyond, “thou shalt not.” Our vows (whether the marriage covenant or our ordinary life) should not be about looking for technicalities, but a basic posture of honesty that needs to elaborate justification. We should be quick to go the extra mile, even to the point of loving our enemies. If you want to make a superficial change in society, this is overkill. But if the people Jesus was calling were going to be salt to preserve the world and light to guide it, they would need to go beyond the typical ideas of holiness. I can apologize to my wife while fuming on the inside, and maybe even convince her that I am genuinely sorry. But the benefits to our relationship would be short-lived because my heart would eventually leak out. I can fool people, but never God. The reign of Jesus is so complete that it must touch every part of us. Accept no substitutes.

Discussion idea: Why is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons an especially dangerous form of temptation? How is heart-centered righteousness greater than external obedience?

Prayer focus: Pray for God to reveal an opportunity to go the extra mile and serve someone beyond any outward expectation.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

January 6 - Matthew 4


Chapter: Matthew 4

Key verse: "And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

Big idea: Jesus the King came to build a kingdom out of people, not brick and mortar.

Sometimes, everything changes in an instant. At 7:45 a.m. on December 7, 1941, no one could predict that the lives of every American were about to be forever transformed. September 11, 2001, seemed ordinary, right until the moment it wasn’t. How long ago was it that you learned how to pronounce “COVID”? The routines of societies continue more or less untouched until some invader comes and shakes the foundations.

What is true of nations is also true of our personal lives. Peter and Andrew were throwing their nets like they had countless times, with the familiar sounds and scents of the busy lake all around them. They had been fishermen their entire lives. Their father was a fisherman. Their sons would be fishermen and their sons after them. Lives like that must have seemed so predictable, yet they knew things were changing. After hearing John’s preaching (and submitting to his baptism), they knew that Someone was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Their routines were about to be shattered because the invasion force of the Kingdom of Heaven was arriving. The one that John had preached about and baptized walked up to them and said: “Follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”

But what was sudden for Peter and Andrew is something for which Matthew has been preparing us. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus was tempted for 40 days and was offered all kinds of things: food, pride, and political power. But Jesus’ responses are instructive. He was not building a Kingdom with the traditional materials, but a spiritual kingdom, so He quoted the Bible each time. His Kingdom would consist of men, women, boys, and girls of faith. Its victories would not be won with swords or bows, but with the Word of God and His transforming power. He did not call soldiers, but fishermen who could become fishers of men. His invasion force did not need to demolish castle walls, but the much more insidious strongholds of sickness, sin, and death.

Even though most of us know this intellectually, it is hard for us to deal with the implications. Physical struggles and successes are a lot easier than shaping the hearts of human beings. Winning elections, packing auditoriums, and raising money are all things we can measure. But that kind of victory is always fleeting. The path God lays out is the road to lasting significance.

Discussion idea: The temptation to swap out God’s definition of success with a tangible one is always present. In what way is it the most dangerous for you?

Prayer focus: Whenever Jesus faced temptation, He turned to the Bible. Pray for a commitment to Bible reading and prayer, to keep the tools you truly need close at hand.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

January 5 - Matthew 3


Chapter: Matthew 3

Key verse: "For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Matthew 3:3

Big idea: John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus the King.

When we are telling the narrative of our lives, there is no mystery about who the hero will be. A fundamental consequence of our sinful nature is the illusion that we are the most important people around, and everyone else exists to serve us. Like children who pick the guests at their birthday by who brings the best gifts, we treat others as a means to an end.

John the Baptist was different. He knew that he was not the main event and was always mindful that he was just the opening act. No one trying to develop his personal fan club says things like “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Matthew 3:8). John’s message was simple: The King is coming, so turn from your sins and prepare for his arrival. He baptized those who believed what he taught and showed it. They were buried in the water and raised again as startling symbols of their death to their old way of living and new life with God. Those who were baptized by John formed the raw materials that Jesus would use to begin building His church (something we will see in Acts 1:22). John viewed his whole life as a tool in the hands of a master craftsman.

John was never looking for personal glory. In fact, when his big moment came, he tried to turn it down! Jesus came to him to be baptized, and John wanted to talk him out of it by saying that he was the one who needed to be baptized (Matthew 3:14). Jesus was the one whose sandals John did not feel worthy to carry like a slave. But John did submit to baptizing Jesus to fulfill God’s righteous plan, and when Jesus came out of the water, the Father Himself declared His pleasure in the Son. The one who had devoted his life to preparing the way for the King was ultimately able to prepare the King Himself.

How different would our ministries and lives be if we saw ourselves as extras in a play where Jesus is the only star? Which humbling opportunities would we take? Which impressive ones would we leave on the table? If John the Baptist has been one of the countless Jewish rabbis that tried to build a following for himself, we would never know his name. Because he chose to seek God first, he has gone down in history as the one who prepared the way for the Lord.

Discussion idea: Which of your priorities would be different if you believed that your ultimate purpose was something beyond your own life? What patterns of selfishness do you see in your life?

Prayer focus: Pray for God to give you strength against the things which feed your self-centeredness and to give you the clarity of mind to see your place as part of a much bigger puzzle.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

January 4 - Matthew 2


Chapter: Matthew 2

Key verse: “Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2

Big idea: We cannot be neutral to Jesus the King; we will either worship or rebel.

About two years after Jesus was born, a group of astrologers from the East came to worship Jesus. They saw a star rising, and apparently familiar with some of the Old Testament prophecies decided to go and see the newborn king of the Jews. Matthew does not tell us how many came, but we know they brought three precious gifts: gold, frankincense (a powder burned as incense), and myrrh (perfume). Centuries earlier, the queen of Sheba had come from the East to honor King Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-10), and these men came to recognize his heir. When they heard about Jesus, their reaction was reverence.

On their way, they came to the current king of Israel and Rome’s puppet, Herod the Great. Recognizing a threat to his power, Herod sent the wise men (or magi) to find out where Jesus was so that he could destroy Him. Murder was certainly not out of Herod’s character; he executed three of his own sons when he thought they were rivals, one in the same year he attempted to kill Jesus. Christ’s claim to the throne was a threat to his autonomy, and so he chose rebellion.

There is no middle ground with Jesus because there is no neutral response to a king. Either we submit to His reign like the wise men or reject it for our personal authority like Herod. Yet, the great principle of the Bible is that when we try to be our final authority, we are only fooling ourselves. We are merely choosing sin and death as our masters instead of God. Herod’s desire to be his own absolute authority gave his sin final dominion over him. By the end of the chapter, we find that the death that he used so willingly on others has claimed him too. But in Christ, we are set free from those old lords, if we will accept Him.

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

Prayer focus: Make a list of ways that you have rejected Jesus’ kingship in your own life. Pray specifically for forgiveness in those areas and the strength and faith to follow Him in those areas.

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Monday, January 3, 2022

January 3 - Matthew 1

Key Verse: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Big Idea: The arrival of Jesus the King is both something ancient and something new.

Plenty of wide-eyed students have opened the New Testament enthusiastically and been shocked to find a genealogy. As you read Matthew 1, you might be thinking: “Who cares that Uzziah was the father of Jotham? Isn’t the Old Testament the one with all of the ‘begat’s? I thought the New Testament was going to be interesting!” But there is a good reason that the Holy Spirit led Matthew to begin his gospel this way. The coming of Jesus is not Plan B, as if God had been doing one thing throughout history and is now giving up on that to try a new approach. Jesus is the culmination of everything which came before, and so His genealogy firmly anchors Him as the climax of the story.

Jesus is fully human, so He is part of that long human story. He was born into a family with a history, both good and bad. That was no accident! Jesus did not enter the world at random; He came as the masterstroke when the chessboard was perfectly arranged. The successes and failures of everyone who came before laid out the path which Jesus fulfilled.

It is not enough to say that Jesus is fully human, though. As the angel told Joseph in verses 20 and 21: “for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS for he shall save his people from their sins.” This child was the son of Mary and fully human, but also the Son of God and fully divine. The tension in this story is that Jesus was both the next step in a long line and something radically new and unexpected. He is a part of the legacy which has come before, but He is also the author’s unprecedented intrusion. This baby boy was Immanuel, God with us, who would grow up to die as a human being for the sins of human beings, and rise again as the victorious God who has set people free from the chains of sin and death.

Discussion idea: Do you recognize any of the names in the genealogy? What can you remember about them? How has God used your family to make you into the person He wants you to be?

Prayer focus: Thank God for someone in your family who has helped you to grow, whether through a challenge or a blessing.