Your Plan for 2024

Commit to read the New Testament in 2024. Just one chapter every weekday, accompanied by a short devotional here.

Friday, March 29, 2024

March 29

In a leap year, there are 3 more weekdays in a year than there are chapters in the New Testament, so we will have three "catch-up" days. As we approach Resurrection Sunday, I wanted to share a great sermon from Alexander MacLaren, a Scottish pastor born 198 years ago, but whose words resonate through the ages. [Source: Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 1–5 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 195–205.]

The Power of the Resurrection

1 Cor. 15:3–4

CHRISTMAS DAY is probably not the true anniversary of the Nativity, but Easter is certainly that of the Resurrection. The season is appropriate. In the climate of Palestine the first fruits of the harvest were ready at the Passover for presentation in the Temple. It was an agricultural as well as a historical festival; and the connection between that aspect of the feast and the Resurrection of our Lord is in the Apostle’s mind when he says, in a subsequent part of this chapter, that Christ is ‘risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.’
In our colder climate the season is no less appropriate. The ‘life re-orient out of dust’ which shows itself to-day in every bursting leaf-bud and springing flower is Nature’s parable of the spring that awaits man after the winter of death. No doubt, apart from the Resurrection of Jesus, the yearly miracle kindles sad thoughts in mourning hearts, and suggests bitter contrasts to those who sorrow, having no hope, but the grave in the garden has turned every blossom into a smiling prophet of the Resurrection.
And so the season, illuminated by the event, teaches us lessons of hope that ‘we shall not all die.’ Let us turn, then, to the thoughts naturally suggested by the day, and the great fact which it brings to each mind, and confirmed thereafter by the miracle that is being wrought round about us.

I. First, Then, In My Text, I Would Have You Note The Facts Of Paul’s Gospel.

‘First of all, I delivered’ these things. And the ‘first’ not only points to the order of time in the proclamation, but to the order of importance as well. For these initial facts are the fundamental facts, on which all that may follow thereafter is certainly built. Now the first thing that strikes me here is that, whatever else the system unfolded in the New Testament is, it is to begin with a simple record of historical fact. It becomes a philosophy, it becomes a religious system; it is a revelation of God; it is an unveiling of man; it is a body of ethical precepts. It is morals and philosophy and religion all in one; but it is first of all a story of something that took place in the world.
If that be so, there is a lesson for men whose work it is to preach it. Let them never forget that their business is to insist upon the truth of these great, supernatural, all-important, and fundamental facts, the death and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. They must evolve all the deep meanings that lie in them; and the deeper they dig for their meanings the better. They must open out the endless treasures of consolation and enforce the omnipotent motives of action which are wrapped up in the facts; but howsoever far they may carry their evolving and their application of them, they will neither be faithful to their Lord nor true stewards of their message unless, clear above all other aspects of their work, and underlying all other forms of their ministry, there be the unfaltering proclamation—‘first of all,’ midst of all, last of all ‘how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,’ and ‘that He was raised again according to the Scriptures.’
Note, too, how this fundamental and original character of the gospel which Paul preached, as a record of facts, makes short work of a great deal that calls itself ‘liberal Christianity’ in these days. We are told that it is quite possible to be a very good Christian man, and reject the supernatural, and turn away with incredulity from the story of the Resurrection. It may be so, but I confess that it puzzles me to understand how, if the fundamental character of Christian teaching be the proclamation of certain facts, a man who does not believe those facts has the right to call himself a Christian.
Note, further, how there is an element of explanation involved in the proclamation of the facts which turns them into a gospel. Mark how ‘that Christ died,’ not Jesus. It is a great truth, that the man, our Brother, Jesus, passed through the common lot, but that is not what Paul says here, though he often says it. What he says is that ‘Christ died.’ Christ is the name of an office, into which is condensed a whole system of truth, declaring that it is He who is the Apex, the Seal, and ultimate Word of all divine revelation. It was the Christ who died; unless it was so, the death of Jesus is no gospel.
‘He died for our sins.’ Now, if the Apostle had only said ‘He died for us,’ that might conceivably have meant that, in a multitude of different ways of example, appeal to our pity and compassion and the like, His death was of use to mankind. But when he says ‘He died for our sins; I take leave to think that that expression has no meaning, unless it means that He died as the expiation and sacrifice for men’s sins. I ask you, in what intelligible sense could Christ ‘die for our sins’ unless He died as bearing their punishment and as bearing it for us? And then, finally, ‘He died and rose according to the Scriptures,’ and so fulfilled the divine purposes revealed from of old.
To the fact that a man was crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem, ‘and rose again the third day,’ which is the narrative, there are added these three things—the dignity of the Person, the purpose of His death, the fulfilment of the divine intention manifested from of old. And these three things, as I said, turn the narrative into a Gospel.
So, brethren, let us remember that, without all three of them, the death of Jesus Christ is nothing to us, any more than the death of thousands of sweet and saintly men in the past has been, who may have seen a little more of the supreme goodness and greatness than their fellows, and tried in vain to make purblind eyes participate in their vision. Do you think that these twelve fishermen would ever have shaken the world if they had gone out with the story of the Cross, unless they had carried along with it the commentary which is included in the words which I have emphasised? And do you suppose that the type of Christianity which slurs over the explanation, and so does not know what to do with the facts, will ever do much in the world, or will ever touch men? Let us liberalise our Christianity by all means, but do not let us evaporate it; and evaporate it we surely shall if we falter in saying with Paul, ‘I declare, first of all, that which received,’ how that the death and resurrection were the death and resurrection of the Christ, ‘for our sins, according to the Scriptures.’ These are the facts which make Paul’s gospel.

II. Now I Ask You To Look, In The Second Place, At What Establishes The Facts.

We have here, in this chapter, a statement very much older than our existing written gospels. This epistle is one of the four letters of Paul which nobody that I know of—with some quite insignificant exceptions in modern times—has ever ventured to dispute. It is admittedly the writing of the Apostle, written before the gospels, and in all probability within five-and-twenty years of the date of the Crucifixion. And what do we find alleged by it as the state of things at its date? That the belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was the subject of universal Christian teaching, and was accepted by all the Christian communities. Its evidence to that fact is undeniable; because there was in the early Christian Church a very formidable and large body of bitter antagonists of Paul’s, who would have been only too glad to have convicted him, if they could, of any misrepresentation of the usual notions, or divergence from the usual type of teaching. So we may take it as undeniable that the representation of this chapter is historically true; and that within five-and-twenty years of the death of Jesus Christ every Christian community and every Christian teacher believed in and proclaimed the fact of the Resurrection.
But if that be so, we necessarily are carried a great deal nearer the Cross than five-and-twenty years; and, in fact, there is not, between the moment when Paul penned these words and the day of Pentecost, a single chink in the history where you can insert such a tremendous innovation as the full-fledged belief in a resurrection coming in as something new.
I do not need to dwell at all upon this other thought, that, unless the belief that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead originated at the time of His death, there would never have been a Church at all. Why was it that they did not tumble to pieces? Take the nave out of the wheel and what becomes of the spokes? A dead Christ could never have been the basis of a living Church. If He had not risen from the dead, the story of His disciples would have been the same as that which Gamaliel told the Sanhedrim was the story of all former pseudo-Messiahs such as that man Theudas. ‘He was slain, and as many as followed him were dispersed and came to naught.’ Of course! The existence of the Church demands, as a prerequisite, the initial belief in the Resurrection. I think, then, that the contemporaneousness of the evidence is sufficiently established.
What about its good faith? I suppose that nobody, nowadays, doubts the veracity of these witnesses, Anybody that knows an honest man when he sees him, anybody that has the least ear for the tone of sincerity and the accent of conviction, must say that they may have been fanatics, they may have been mistaken, but one thing is clear as sunlight, they were not false witnesses for God.
What, then, about their competency? Their simplicity, their ignorance, their slowness to believe, their stupor of surprise when the fact first dawned upon them, which they tell not with any idea of manufacturing evidence in their own favour, but simply as a piece of history, all tend to make us certain that there was no play of a morbid imagination, no hysterical turning of a wish into a fact, on the part of these men. The sort of things which they say that they saw and experienced are such as to make any such supposition altogether absurd. There are long conversations, appearances appealing to more than one sense, appearances followed by withdrawals, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening, sometimes at a distance, as on the mountain, sometimes close by, as in the chamber, to single souls and to multitudes. Fancy five hundred people all at once smitten with the same mistake, imagining that they saw what they did not see! Miracles may be difficult to believe, they are not half so difficult to believe as absurdities. And this modern explanation of the faith in the Resurrection I venture respectfully to designate as absurd.
But there is one other point to which I would like to turn for a moment; and that is that little clause in my text that ‘He was buried.’ Why does Paul introduce that amongst his facts? Possibly in order to affirm the reality of Christ’s death; but I think for another reason. If it be true that Jesus Christ was laid in that sepulchre, a stone’s throw outside the city gate, do you not see what a difficulty that fact puts in the way of disbelief or denial of His Resurrection? If the grave—and it was not a grave, remember, like ours, but a cave, with a stone at the door of it, that anybody could roll away for entrance—if the grave was there, why, in the name of common-sense, did not the rulers put an end to the pestilent heresy by saying, ‘Let us go and see if the body is there’?
Modern deniers of the Resurrection may fairly be asked to front this thought—If Jesus Christ’s body was in the sepulchre, how was it possible for belief in the Resurrection to have been originated, or maintained? If His body was not in the grave, what had become of it? If His friends stole it away then they were deceivers of the worst type in preaching a resurrection; and we have already seen that that hypothesis is ridiculous. IF His enemies took it away, for which they had no motive, why did they not produce it and say, ‘There is an answer to your nonsense. There is the dead man. Let us hear no more of this absurdity of His having risen from the dead’?
‘He died …, according to the Scriptures, and He was buried.’ And the angels’ word carries the only explanation of the fact which it proclaims, ‘He is not here—He is risen.’
I take leave to say that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is established by evidence which nobody would ever have thought of doubting unless for the theory that miracles were impossible. The reason for disbelief is not the deficiency of the evidence, but the bias of the judge.

III. And Now I Have No Time To Do More Than Touch The Last Thought.

I have tried to show what establishes the facts. Let me remind you, in a sentence or two, what the facts establish.
I by no means desire to suspend the whole of the evidence for Christianity on the testimony of the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection. There are a great many other ways of establishing the truth of the Gospel besides that, upon which I do not need to dwell now. But, taking this one specific ground which my text suggests, what do the facts thus established prove?
Well, the first point to which I would refer, and on which I should like to enlarge, if I had time, is the bearing of Christ’s Resurrection on the acceptance of the miraculous. We hear a great deal about the impossibility of miracle and the like. It upsets the certainty and fixedness of the order of things, and so forth, and so forth. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead; and that opens a door wide enough to admit all the rest of the Gospel miracles. It is of no use paring down the supernatural in Christianity, in order to meet the prejudices of a quasi-scientific scepticism, unless you are prepared to go the whole length, and give up the Resurrection. There is the turning point. The question is, Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, or do you not? If your objections to the supernatural are valid, then Christ is not risen from the dead; and you must face the consequences of that. If He is risen from the dead, then you must cease all your talk about the impossibility of miracle, and be willing to accept a supernatural revelation as God’s way of making Himself known to man.
But, further, let me remind you of the bearing of the Resurrection upon Christ’s work and claims. If He be lying in some forgotten grave, and if all that fair thought of His having burst the bands of death is a blunder, then there was nothing in His death that had the least bearing upon men’s sin, and it is no more to me than the deaths of thousands in the past. But if He is risen from the dead, then the Resurrection casts back a light upon the Cross, and we understand that His death is the life of the world, and that ‘by His stripes we are healed.’
But, further, remember what He said about Himself when He was in the world—how He claimed to be the Son of God; how He demanded absolute obedience, implicit trust, supreme love, how He identified faith in Himself with faith in God, and consider the Resurrection as bearing on the reception or rejection of these tremendous claims. It seems to me that we are brought sharp up to this alternative—Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and was declared by the Resurrection to be the Son of God with power; or Jesus Christ has not risen from the dead—and what then? Then He was either deceiver or deceived, and in either case has no right to my reverence and my love. We may be thankful that men are illogical, and that many who reject the Resurrection retain reverence, genuine and deep, for Jesus Christ. But whether they have any right to do so is another matter. I confess for myself that, if I did not believe that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, I should find it very hard to accept, as an example of conduct, or as religious teacher, a man who had made such great claims as He did, and had asked from me what He asked. It seems to me that He is either a great deal more, or a great deal less, than a beautiful saintly soul. If He rose from the dead He is much more; if He did not, I am afraid to say how much less He is.
And, finally, the bearing of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ upon our own hopes of the future may be suggested. It teaches us that life has nothing to do with organisation, but persists apart from the body. It teaches us that a man may pass from death and he unaltered in the substance of his being; and it teaches us that the earthly house of our tabernacle may he fashioned like unto the glorious house in which He dwells now at the right hand of God. There is no other absolute proof of immortality than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If we accept with all our hearts and minds Paul’s Gospel in its fundamental facts, we need not fear to die, because He has died, and by dying has been the death of death. We need not doubt that we shall live again, because He was dead and is alive for ever more. This Samson has carried away the gates on His strong shoulders, and death is no more a dungeon but a passage. If we rest ourselves upon Him, then we can take up, for ourselves and for all that are dear to us and have gone before us, the triumphant song, ‘O Death, where is thy sting?’ ‘Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Thursday, March 28, 2024

March 28 - Luke 17

Key Verse: Luke 17:17
Big Idea: When we understand the Son of Man's work, we will learn what it means to be thankful.

I read the story of some parents after World War 2 who gave their church an offering of $200 as a memorial for their son. Sitting there as the presentation was made, another mother whispered to her husband that they should make the same donation for their son. He was confused; their son had made it home safely. His wife replied that was her point: they should be grateful for what didn't happen. How often do we pray and praise God for the accident we did not have, the sickness we did not get or the job we did not lose?

Younger Kids: Do you have an easier time remembering to say 'please' or 'thank you?' Why do you think that is the case?

Adrian Rogers argued that there are four levels of people. The lowest are those who complain about everything at all times. They make themselves miserable and try to bring as much company as they can along. The next level are those who are just ungrateful, not particularly prone to gratitude or to grumbling. The next level are those who are grateful for the obvious blessings. But the highest level are those who give thanks at all times, always keeping one eye to the heavens, aware of the many small mercies God gives us.

Today's reading includes two striking contrasts. First, Jesus talks about how a servant does his work first, and cannot expect a special commendation from his master for doing his job. Second, Jesus heals ten lepers, and only one returns to thank Him. Isn't it ironic? When we do the smallest thing, we expect a parade. But no matter what God does for us, we carry on like we are self-sufficient.

This is silly enough for a Muslim or a Buddhist. But if you are a Christian, you believe that the Son of Man gave His very life for you, while you were His enemy, and sustains you every moment by His grace. We deserve only judgment and condemnation but are given mercy and love. Step back today, and take some time to realize who the Son of Man is and what He has done for you. There is no better prod to gratitude.

Discussion idea: Why did the other 9 not return to thank Jesus? What are some overlooked blessings we can thank God for today?

Prayer Focus: 
Take turns as a family thanking God. First, for something good He has done, then thank Him for something hard He is using for good. Thank Him for someone who is there with you and then for someone who is not there (for whatever reason). Something good, something hard, someone here and someone not.

P.S. Notice that the leper comes back, glorifying God and thanking Jesus. Here is one of the many subtle proofs of the Trinity in the New Testament. He comes to praise God, and does it through God become Man: Jesus.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

March 27 - Luke 16

Key Verse: Luke 16:31
Big Idea: The resurrection of the Son of Man is the test of what really matters.

There are few things that people fixate on more than money. When they don't have it, they think they will be happy if they get it. When they have it (no matter how much), they think they will be happy with just a little bit more. In Luke 16, Jesus tells two stories about wealth and its proper use that are incredibly applicable today, although a little bit difficult to interpret until you notice how Luke strings them together. The first is a parable of a wealthy man who had a manager that was responsible for managing his estate (the manager did not own it, hence the title steward, but did have a lot of control of the day to day operations). He prepared to fire the manager and ordered him to bring him the books so that he could pass them along to his replacement. But before he did, he gave the master's debtors some discounts. Essentially, he gave away the master's money (which he knew he could not keep) to make friends for himself when he was newly unemployed. Rather than being angry, the master was impressed: maybe the steward he was firing was a shrewd operator after all.

None of our material possessions are really ours; they belong to God and when we die He will redistribute them. With that realization, we ought to be at least clever enough to trade what we cannot keep for what we will need after. This is nothing less than a reminder of the same warning Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Plain: Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven.

The Pharisees challenged Jesus after this teaching. Jesus responded by challenging their devotion to the Law to the exclusion of the spiritual underpinnings: the arriving Kingdom of God. Then he told another story about a rich man and a poor man. The poor man, Lazarus, died and was carried to the arms of Abraham (Abraham's bosom or chest), while the rich man died and found Himself tormented in fire. The rich man called out to Abraham and begged for mercy, but Abraham responded that the rich man had chosen the blessings of earthly life and that there was a great gulf which prevented a change now. Thus far, the thought is not too different from the parable of the steward at the beginning of the chapter. But then Jesus takes a turn and tells us that the rich man asked for someone to warn His brothers about what would happen. Abraham simply says they should listen to the Law and the Prophets - God has already given them plenty of warning. Of course, like the Pharisees, the rich man's brothers would have considered themselves careful listeners to the Law and the Prophets, even as they missed its underlying message.

The rich man claimed that if someone rose from the dead, they would believe. No, Abraham replied. If they would listen at all, they would listen to God's Word. Someone rising from the dead would make no difference. The message would be proven right shortly. These same ones who rejected Jesus now would reject Him when He rose from the dead. When He triumphantly showed that life was short, but that there was hope beyond it, people were faced with the decision to lay up treasures in Heaven or continue hoarding them on Earth. But they rejected Him, rejected their only hope and condemned themselves.

Discussion idea: What are some material things that you could give up to serve God? Is that easy or difficult? Why?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would give an eternal perspective. If we trust Jesus, we will die, but He will raise us up again. Pray that we will prioritize those things which we will have with Him forever, and not be caught up in possessions which were never ours anyway.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

March 26 - Luke 15

Key Verse: Luke 15:24
Big Idea: The Son of Man pursues us wherever we run.

When you think about the major blockbuster movies, novels and TV shows in our day, you will find that many of the biggest, most captivating are love stories or stories of redemption. These two kinds of plots connect with the human heart in a special way, because they speak to a basic need we have for relationship and acceptance. With that in mind, it is no surprise that Luke 15 is among the most loved chapters in the Bible. It tells two short stories to set the scene and a final parable that tells a story of love and redemption, with a subplot of envy and bitterness.

Older kids: What is your favorite movie? What about the plot connects with you?

Our setting: the Pharisees opposing Jesus, because of how close He is getting to sinners. The setup: Jesus tells two short stories. If you lost a sheep, you would go find it, and would be excited when you did. If you lost some money, you would tell all your neighbors when you found it again. The angels of God rejoice like that when a sinner is reclaimed by God, yet the Pharisees (who would be excited about a sheep or a coin), are angry that this person is found again.

To hit the nail squarely on the head, Jesus tells a final story. A man has two sons. The younger comes and asks the father to liquidate his assets and give him his inheritance now. Unthinkably, the father does so, and the younger son takes and wastes it all. He goes from being wealthy to slopping pigs and starving himself. He ‘comes to himself’ and decides to return to his father. But before he can get close, his father’s watching eye sees him and his father runs to throw his arms around him, forgiving him and restoring him. Although the son walked the road away from home alone, the father pursues him there when he returns. God’s love is like that. Although we might be excited about a sheep or a coin, how much more a child! Even though we have rejected God, He is still overjoyed when we return to Him, and He ran down to Earth to reclaim us.

Yet, there is a dark ending to the story. The older brother does not come to the celebration, but sits and sulks outside, although he would certainly have joined in celebrating a sheep or a coin recovered. When his father comes to him to bring him in, he is resentful and disrespectful. Like a spoiled brat, he ignores the blessings his father had given him to complain about the love being shown to his prodigal brother. The Pharisees  who acted this way when Jesus came to the notorious sinners to reclaim them revealed they did not understand God’s heart. Like Jonah, they loved the material things of the world and resented people. The Son of Man did not come with that agenda. He came to love and to bring us home.

Discussion idea: Do you ever get resentful when you see someone forgiven for something they have done wrong? Why do you think that we, forgiven sinners, do not value mercy more?
Prayer focus: Praise God for reclaiming us with joy and pray we could see people more like He does.

Monday, March 25, 2024

March 25 - Luke 14

Key Verse: Luke 14:11

Big Idea: The humble are exalted by the Son of Man.

Have you ever seen someone waving at you, smiled and waved back, only to find out they were waving at someone else? There is a particular kind of embarrassment that comes from thinking we are more important than we are and getting cut down to size. When it is some small social slip up like a wave, we get over it quickly, but the feeling is real. The first parable Jesus told in today’s chapter was hardly a parable at all. He saw the way that the people at the dinner party He was attending were trying to position themselves in the places of highest honor, and gave them a very simple instruction: “Knock it off.” It is better, Jesus taught them, to put yourself in a low position and get invited to come up higher, than to put yourself in a top position and get asked to move over for someone else. It is always better to let someone else pat you on the back, rather than to do it for yourself.

This is good advice for us in every arena. Don’t tell other people how great you are: be humble and let someone else lift you up. But Jesus connects this to a fundamental theological principle: God will lift up the humble, and oppose the proud (Proverbs 29:23James 4:6). There is no better example of this than Jesus Himself, who came and associated with the people who were rejected and mistreated. He humbled Himself, all the way to dying on a cross between two thieves. But because He humbled Himself, our Heavenly Father raised Him up again, seated Him back in His rightful place in the throne of Heaven and gave Him dominion over all things. He is our example.

When we try and fight our own way to the top, we are working against the only King’s will and plan. Instead, if we trust Him and admit our own weakness, we are given freely what we could never take. The same one who was exalted for humbling Himself, exalts us too.

Discussion idea: Why is pride such a powerful enemy? How can you be humble with your friends, following the example of Jesus?

Prayer focus: Thank God for humbling Himself to rescue us from our sin. Ask God to help you see the areas in your own life where humility is needed, and for help seeing Him clearly enough to put ourselves into perspective.

Friday, March 22, 2024

March 22 - Luke 13

Key Verse: Luke 13:34

Big Idea: The heart of the Son of Man is broken when people refuse to hear His call.

In Luke 13, Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders begins to escalate. He compares them to a fruitless fig tree, ready to be cut down, heals a woman on the sabbath day, and warns that the apparent outsiders will eat at the table with Abraham, while the insiders will be cast out. The heat was rising but Christ did not respond to warning that His life was in danger. This is why He came. So He went to the Holy City where so many prophets had been betrayed before and cried over Jerusalem with a broken heart. Like a hen shelters her chicks beneath her wings, Jesus said that He had tried to pull the people into safety and security, yet they rejected Him time after time. He warned them that they were out of time, and would not see Him again until they were ready to receive Him (Psalm 118:26).

I look at that and wonder about myself as a pastor. Do I walk boldly into the place where people are hurting? Am I broken or indignant when people do not respond the way I think they ought to? I am afraid that too often, when people throw rocks and criticism like it's their profession, I am a long way from the loving posture of a mother hen. The patience of Jesus is incredible, yet there are still consequences for being outside of His shelter. They are left desolate: a fig tree ready to be uprooted by God. Even this rejection is not final, at least on a national level. One day, they will say: “Blessings on the One who comes in the name of the Lord!” The door has closed for this generation, but a future generation will see Jesus for who He is. Jesus was truly the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, and while His own generation rejected Him all the way to the cross, one day the people will return to Him, when the fullness of the Gentiles have been saved (Romans 11:25).

In our own lives, we can be reassured of God’s patient love. For most of us, we hear His loving call and break His heart many times before we respond. But, eventually, we have our last chance. The people we minister to may reject and harden their hearts but our responsibility is to be faithful to extend the gospel message for as long as they will hear it. If it costs us personally, we are no better than our Lord. 

Discussion idea: What does it mean to be patient? Does patience mean that someone is never punished for their mistakes?
Prayer focus: Thank God for a specific instance where He was patient with you. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

March 20 - Luke 11

Key verse: Luke 11:26
Big Idea: The Son of Man demands obedience from the whole man.

Luke 11 is largely about hypocrisy. Prayer that asks God for things, but does not trust His goodness. Claiming to believe in God, but asking for a sign and then refusing to respond to the sign. People who wash the outside of their "cups," but not the inside - their behavior looks good, but their hearts are rotten. People who count the leaves on a mint plant to tithe every tenth leave, yet who care nothing about justice or mercy. Undermining the prophets will they lived, then building them monuments when they died (like the United States trying to discredit Martin Luther King Jr. while he lived, then giving him a holiday when he died). Hypocrisy! Hypocrisy Hypocrisy!

Jesus is not impressed. The Son of Man knows what is in the heart of a man, and He is not satisfied when we merely remove external acts of sin. But in the middle of this passage (Luke 11:24-26), a fascinating parable sheds a lot of light on this situation. If a demon is cast out of a person, Jesus says, then he may depart the person for a while. But when the demon returns, he finds the person an empty house, neat, clean and ready to inhabit. So the demon goes, finds seven demons eviler than himself, and the man who had one demon cast out is not possessed by a posse.

The discussion of demons is interesting but is not Jesus' real point. Instead, he is pointing out the problem with the religious hypocrites is that their hearts will not stand a vacuum. When evil is cast out, it must be replaced with something, and if not, all of your self-discipline in resisting sin will just make you into a better sinner: a house swept, dusted and ready for a bigger party. Only one thing is going to keep the demon from returning in the parable: someone stronger already living in the house. When we try and fight off our own sin, we are sweeping a dirt floor. When we instead give our whole selves to Jesus, inside and out, He fights our battles for us. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and He will add everything else.

Discussion idea: Many people are struggling with anxiety right now. If that anxiety is resisted head-on, it will simply be repalced by a different worry. How do we replace it instead with the indwelling power of Jesus? What is a specific anxiety in your life, and how can you replace it with seeking the Kingdom?

Prayer focus: Pray that God would empower us and transform us to serve Him with our whole hearts, exposing any hypocrisy and leaving only devotion.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

March 19 - Luke 10

Key Verse: Luke 10:36
Big Idea: We are not like the Son of Man until we love our neighbor.

An expert in the law came to Jesus and asked what it took to be sure of eternal life. Jesus offered him the only thing that anyone can do. Love God completely and love your neighbor as yourself. If someone did these two things perfectly, they would be perfect in every way and, being sinless, could enter into Heaven. Like everyone trying to make themselves look good, the man searched for a loophole: if I am supposed to love my neighbor as myself, who is my neighbor? How far does this obligation stretch?

Older kids: List some sins. Which ones violate love of God and which ones violate love of our neighbor? 

In first century Israel, many people thought that love should be restricted along racial, class or behavioral lines. In fact, many of the rabbis interpreted “love your neighbor” as implying that there was someone who was not your neighbor whom you should not love. What do we learn from this man’s question? He had already missed the first law of love. Love does not ask “How far must I go?” Love asks “How far can I go?” By asking the question about who we must love, we show that we do not understand love. This is especially clear when the Teacher is already on the way to the cross to die for the wicked.

To answer the question, Jesus tells one of the most well-known parables is the Bible. A man was traveling down an extremely dangerous road, where he was attacked, stripped naked and left for dead. A priest and a Levite (both “insiders” by race, class and behavior because of their tribe of birth) ignored him. Perhaps they knew that attackers often used the injured as bait. Perhaps the man was not Jewish and so they felt no obligation to him. Whatever the reason, they walked past on the far side of the road. like someone refusing to make eye contact with a beggar..”Not my problem; not my neighbor.”

A Samaritan, a group of people hated by the Jews for their religious corruption and intermarriage with the Canaanites, stopped and showed compassion. At great risk and cost, he took the injured man to an inj to recover. The Samaritan and the inn keeper, both considered shady outsiders, show love, while the insiders did not. Jesus then simply asked the law expert: ‘who was a neighbor to this man?”
Obviously the neighbor was not defined by any social boundaries, but by the one who acted as a neighbor. The call to love your neighbor as yourself is the call to realize we are all neighbors, by virtue of our humanity and our need of love. Jesus told the man to go and do that - show compassion without boundaries.

It is that problem which shows clearly why we can never earn our own salvation. Our love is never total or complete, so our actions never fulfill the law. So rather than seeing ourselves as the Samaritan, we are instead the helpless one on the side of the road, who is nursed to health again by the One who was despised and rejected of men, the One who chose to become our neighbor. The Som of Man has shown that great love for us, and our relationship with God depends on faith in that alone. But if we recognize that love, we must know that being like Him means passing it along.

Discussion idea: Is it possible to love someone without action? Why or why not/ Who is hard for you to love? Why?
Prayer focus: Praise God for loving us when we were unlovable. Ask God to help us love the ones that He loves, but we do not, not based on their worth, but on His faithfulness.

Monday, March 18, 2024

March 18 - Luke 9

Key Verse: Luke 9:58

Big Idea: The Son of Man calls us to follow Him in sacrifice.

Wouldn't it be nice if life were always easy? If the stock market were always up, if pets lived forever and if brussels sprouts tasted like cotton candy? Of course, this is not reality. Life is hard. Sometimes it is made hard because of other people and their sin, sometimes it is hard because of the kinds of diseases and disasters that we have in a fallen world. But sometimes, life is hard because following Jesus does not always mean taking the easiest path.

Younger Kids: Have you ever been tempted to take the easy way out or to half do something? How does that hurt your witness for God? 

If Jesus is our example, then it is obvious that He did not take the path of least resistance. He left the riches of Heaven to be poor on Earth, and those who wanted to become His followers on Earth had to choose radical faith. They did not know where they would sleep that night, they just knew that Jesus was leading them. If we are led by Jesus, who loved others so much that He gave His life for them, then we must love others more than we love our own comfort or pleasure. We must be willing to sacrifice alongside Him, knowing that ultimately being with Him is greater than anything we could ever give up.

Older kids: What are you most afraid of losing? What would be worth giving that up? 
This chapter includes several people who wanted to follow Jesus on their own terms. In other words, they wanted to be labeled as Jesus' followers, but really be their own leaders. We can't do that. If we do what God wants when it is also what we want, it is not God we are following, but ourselves. Jesus does not call us to be half-followers, but totally devoted to Him. Sometimes that means ordinary life, like the man who had been possessed in Luke 8. Sometimes it means great sacrifice. Sometimes it is something in between. Every time it is worth it.

Discussion Idea: A famous missionary and martyr, Jim Elliott, wrote: "He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." What did he mean by that? Do you agree?

Prayer focus: Pray for Christians who suffer persecution around the world (check out for some examples) as they give up so much for Jesus. Pray that God would break our love of the things that keep our eyes on this life, and turn us to Him.

Friday, March 15, 2024

March 15 - Luke 8


Key Verse: Luke 8:39
Big Idea: Sometimes following the Son of Man looks like ordinary life.

What does following Jesus look like? Does it look like a missionary, walking through the jungles of Africa, risking life and limb to take the gospel where it has never been heard? Does it look like a pastor, working day after day on preaching, counseling, and prayer? Does it look like someone who is very poor? Or someone who is very rich?

Any of these may be right, any of these may be wrong. God's calling on every life is different. Sometimes following the Son of Man does not involve getting on an airplane, but going into the kitchen to make breakfast for young children who are soaking up God's truths. For several missionary families I know, following Jesus meant both going to a foreign field and faithfully raising their children in the struggles and joys of everyday life. The truth is that God is nor impressed by the things we are impressed by. You would have a hard time finding a more dramatic story than the man described at the end of Luke 8, who was possessed by 5000 demons and liberated by Jesus. In gratitude for what Jesus had done for Him (like the woman in Luke 7, he loved much because he was loved much), the man wanted to go with Jesus to preach to the world.

But Jesus told him no.

Imagine for a minute, the desire to do something grand, but to have the Son of Man tell you that the greatest impact you can have will seem much more ordinary: "Go home and tell the people here what God has done for you." For all of us, even those who God does call to more dramatic forms of ministry, the beginning of our service is at home. We must help each other in our family, share the gospel with our friends and worship together if we are ever going to lead others outside of our homes.

What does following Jesus look like? It looks like living for Him, right where He put you. Charles Spurgeon once said that if God had made you a cricket and told you to chirp, you could do no better than to obey His will.

Discussion idea: Why do you think the man wanted to travel with Jesus? Why do you think Jesus told him to stay? Does God ever tell us not to do something good, so we can do what is best?
Prayer focus: Pray for contentment with the opportunities and challenges God has given to you and for eyes to see His work in your life.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

March 14 - Luke 7

Key Verse: Luke 7:47
Big Idea:  We love the Son of Man because He first loved us.

As human beings, we are not very lovable. We are sinners, who often bite the hand of the One who feeds us. Yet God, because of His incredible mercy, has chosen to love us and to forgive us. Luke 7 describes a series of incredible events, where those who were outcasts from Jewish social world were received by Jesus. First, a Roman centurion, directly responsible for leading a unit of the troops that occupied the Israelite territory, was praised by Jesus for his faith, and saw his servant healed. A widow who lost her only son, and thus her economic security, stood by as Jesus touched the (ceremonially unclean) dead body and raised him to life again. John the Baptist, in prison and soon to be executed, was described by Jesus as the greatest prophet that had ever lived. 

Finally, in the text from which our key verse is drawn, Jesus was sitting at dinner with a Pharisee and a notorious sinner came up behind him and begin weeping. She took the water from her tears and used her hair to wash the grime of people, animals and earth from His feet. She loved Jesus so much that the most disgusting part of His body was precious to her. Then she took an expensive jar of perfume, although she was likely poor, and broke it over His feet in what seemed like an extravagant waste to the rest of the table.

The host, Simon, failed to offer any of the normal components of hospitality. He offered Jesus no cooling oil for His head or water for His feet. He believed that his own doubts about Jesus were confirmed: a true prophet would have known who this woman was and would have rejected her. He was half right, of course, God's true prophet knew this woman's heart was broken by her sin in a way that all of Simon's external righteousness could not compete with. She had experienced God's love when she was unworthy and loved Him in return. Simon knew self-righteousness and loved only Himself. 

To illustrate the point, Jesus told a simple parable. Two people are forgiven sizeable debts, but one is much larger than the other. Who loves more? The answer is obvious. In the same way, God's love for those the deepest in sin often results in the greatest love when they have been redeemed. Luke, the companion of Paul who had persecuted the church, knows this better than most. We ought to know it too. The more we realize our dependence on God, and our inability to earn His love by anything we do, the more we will actually love and serve Him.

Discussion idea: How does Jesus' ministry as a friend of sinners actually help Him to reach the people who will do the most? How does being "good" come between us and godliness?

Prayer focus: Pray for God to reveal the hidden sins of self righteousness and pride, and replace them with gratitude. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

March 13 - Luke 6

Key Verse: Luke 6:48
Big Idea: The Son of Man is the foundation of our lives.

In the town where I used to live, they built a new neighborhood with massive homes on big lots. Their HOA has a private boat ramp and a private dog park. The developed who set it up undeniably made a fortune. But you can hardly get there because they did not take all of the steps necessary to build quality roads. Instead, when pulling off of FM-2004 in Brazoria County, you are teleported to the potholes of Louisiana. 

Everyone is building something with their life. Some people are building lives that look impressive physically: lots of friends, lots of money and lots of influence. Some people are building lives that look impressive spiritually: lots of followers, lots of Scripture memorized, and lots of good deeds. None of those things are wrong! But if you could dig just a little bit beneath the surface, you might be surprised at what you would find. Some lives that look unimpressive are built on a sturdy foundation, and can safely be expanded and improved. Some lives that seem to be amazing have no foundation, and the first storm will bring them crashing to the ground.

In the parable which concludes the Sermon on the Plain, today’s chapter, Jesus tells us that hearing His words may seem impressive, and people may be amazed at our knowledge, but if we do not do them, we are a house with no foundation. At the first crisis, the life that seemed so beautiful is suddenly so much rubble and disappointment. Too often, we are caught up in what is visible and forget that God is looking at our hearts. If we are to build our lives on Jesus, sometimes it will seem counter-intuitive to those around us, who are mostly concerned with what is visible. But it is the life founded on the rock which can stand the storm. When we make all of who we are on the Rock of Jesus, then even death itself cannot shake us. If we follow Him, He holds us securely in His hand.

Discussion idea: The most important things cannot be lost in life or by death. What are some things that seem important, but are not on the foundation of Jesus? What are some things that seem unimportant, but will last forever?

Prayer focus: Pray for the strength and wisdom to build your life on Jesus alone, repent of any areas of your life which are not. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

March 12 - Luke 5

Key Verse: Luke 5:10
Big Idea: The Son of Man calls us out to bring people in.

Jesus' public ministry was not one that He would accomplish alone. He knew that His time was short, because a cross loomed in the distance and He would need to gather a group of people to carry on His ministry. He built an institution which persists to this day, the church, and laid the groundwork for everything else which would come on this day on the seashores of Galilee. Simon, one of John's disciples, loaned Jesus His boat to use as a platform to preach to a crowd; Jesus then miraculously gave Him a massive catch of fish. Peter, who had heard of Jesus from John, had heard Him teach and seen His power was now faced with a choice. It was time to leave fishing for fish to start fishing for people. 

Younger Kids: What do you think that Jesus means when He says that Peter will "catch men"?
Later in the chapter, Jesus continues His ministry of healing and preaching, until he came across a tax collector, named Levi (to us, he is better known as Matthew). Tax collectors were a despised group of people. Considered religious and political traitors for their alignment with the Roman Empire, they were so hated that the Pharisees and scribes would not eat with them. Jesus invited Levi to follow Him, and Levi did what Jesus had told the fishermen to do earlier: he threw a party to introduce people to Jesus. The Pharisees challenged Jesus, asking why He would eat with these tax collectors and sinners. Jesus described His ministry simply as like a doctor, who needed to be among the sick to do His work (Matthew 5:31-32).
Peter, his brother Andrew, the brothers James and John and Matthew would be the first apostles, the ones that Jesus sent out to preach the good news that He brought. Jesus does not use perfect angels to bring His message, but calls ordinary people out of ordinary life to do extraordinary work. Peter and the others were just like any other sinners, they were fishermen, not rabbis or scribes, and James and John's nickname was "the sons of thunder," for their riotous tempers. But God uses these imperfect people to reach other imperfect people: the men who had been caught will now do the catching. They left everything behind, boat, fish, and family, and followed Jesus (Luke 5:11).

Older kids: If God has given you the job of catching people, what can you learn from the way that fishermen work? How do they catch fish? How do we reach people for Jesus?

Discussion idea: Who is someone that you can talk to about Jesus this week? How does knowing that we have been pulled out of sin motivate us to try and rescue others?
Prayer focus: Thank God that, although we are not any better than anyone else, we have been saved by His grace. Ask Him for eyes that are open to others we can reach for Him.