God Made Visible.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life… – 1 John 1:1 ESV

The very idea that God became a man is a difficult one to reconcile. From the earliest days of the church, there have been those who have attempted to discount it as nothing more than a myth, dispute it as an impossibility, or simply rationalize it away through various man-made explanations. Even the Jews of Jesus' day, who were desperately awaiting the coming of the Messiah, were not expecting God to come in human flesh. They were looking for a human savior, a warrior-king in the same vein as David. Their greatest conflict with Jesus was not so much that He claimed to be the Messiah, but that He claimed to be God. That concept was unfathomable and unacceptable to them. In fact, it was His claim of deity that led them to seek His death. “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18 ESV).

Yet, at one point, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13 ESV). Peter's response was most revealing. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). And Jesus commended Peter for his answer. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17 ESV). Jesus went on to say that the very essence of Peter's confession would be the foundation on which He would build his church. Rather than deny or dispute Peter's statement, Jesus fully agreed with it and acknowledged the indisputable necessity of it. In yet another confrontation with the Pharisees, they sarcastically said to Jesus, “So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (John 8:57-58 ESV). Jesus knowingly used the very words that God spoke when revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). And His words did not escape them, because they immediately picked up rock with which to stone Him.

The Pharisees could not reconcile Jesus' claim to be divine. They could not make it work within their understanding of God, so they wrote Jesus off as a blasphemer. He was little more than crazy. But there are still those today who would deny the divinity of Jesus. The late Robert W. Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, once wrote, “We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus’ divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.” His rejection of Jesus as divine was clear. “A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible.” But Funk and his fellow members of the Jesus Seminar are not alone. Unitarians and Universalists reject the deity of Christ, teaching that He was merely a man. Over the centuries, there have been countless attempts to either rationalize away Jesus' deity. What we cannot explain, we tend to reject. But the gospel of Jesus Christ hinges on the deity of Jesus Christ. He was not just a man sent by God to live an exemplary life and die a martyr's death. He came to live a sinless life and die a sacrificial, substitutionary death as the unblemished Lamb of God. But even with this Robert W. Funk and others take issue. “The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is sub-rational and sub-ethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system in which the gods had to be appeased by offering them some special gift, such as a child or an animal.” At the core of man's rejection of Jesus' deity is the notion that we don't need a savior. Either we reject God's assessment of our sinfulness or we somehow think we can fix the problem ourselves. We can be our own saviors. But God knew the only solution to our problem was to send His Son to do for us what we could never have done for ourselves. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3 ESV). God entered time and space in human flesh. Unbelievable? No doubt about it. Inconceivable? From a human perspective, yes. But God became visible so that salvation might be made possible. Sin required a sacrifice. That sacrifice had to be a man. The righteousness of God required that man be without sin. The unbelievable, inconceivable, inexplicable nature of Jesus as the God-man, made it possible for Him to meet that requirement and satisfy the just demands of a holy God. He came. He lived. He died. He rose again. God became visible and made man's salvation possible. I don't have to explain it, but I do have to accept it.

Christ, the Eternal Life

…the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us… – 1 John 1:2 ESV

There is a certain sense in which the Christian church has turned eternity into some kind of a reward to be had. We have too often offered salvation based on the promise of eternal life or the threat of eternal separation in hell. In doing so, we have turned Jesus into little more than a ticket to a preferred future. But John would have us understand that Jesus is not just the means by which we get eternal life – He IS eternal life. Throughout his gospel and letters, John would have us understand that Jesus is to be the focus of our desire, not eternal life. If we make eternity the object, we are guilty of turning Jesus into little more than a tool to get the reward we want. But in John's estimation, Jesus IS the reward. In one of His confrontations with the religious leaders of His day, Jesus made the sobering statement, “You study the scriptures thoroughly  because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures  that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40 ESV). Jesus was accusing these men of making eternal life the focus and in so doing, walking right past the very one who was eternal life. Like the Pharisees, we can become so obsessed with eternal life that we miss out on the relationship Christ has come to offer us with Himself. In His High Priestly prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus makes the statement, “Now this  is eternal life that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ,  whom you sent” (John 17:3 ESV). In Jesus' own estimation, eternal life is about a relationship with God and Himself. It is about intimacy with God and His Son – something that would be impossible without Christ's work on the cross. Eternal life WITHOUT fellowship with God and His Son would not be a reward, but a punishment. That is the essence of hell. All men will experience eternity. The question is whether they will experience it in intimate fellowship with God and His Son, or without them.

We know from John 3:16, that the gift of eternal life is based on belief in God's Son. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). But again, it would be so easy to turn that verse into a formula for eternal security. Belief + Jesus = Eternity. And while that would be partially true, it misses the whole point. This isn't about getting what we think we want (eternal life). It is about getting what we need (Jesus). He is eternal life. That is why John seemed to teach that eternal life was not some future promise, but a present reality for those who believed in Jesus. Jesus said, “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life” (John 6:47-48 ESV). He then compared Himself to the manna that was provided by God for the Israelites, so that they might eat and not die. It was a temporary solution that forestalled death from hunger while they wandered in the wilderness. But Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread  that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51 ESV). Jesus is the source of eternal life. It is a relationship with Him that gives us life. Listen to His words: “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears  my message  and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 ESV). Jesus is the reason we need not fear death. We don't have to worry about future judgment or condemnation. We already have eternal life because we have Him. He is eternal life. He is ALL we need.

But too often we live as if something is missing. We exist as if the best is yet to come. And while it is proper and right to long for Christ's return and to desire a time when sin will be no more, it is essential that we understand that eternal life is not some future commodity to be had, but a present reality to be enjoyed. John reminds us, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us insight to know  him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This one  is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ESV). Jesus isn't the golden ticket to the prize of eternal life. He IS eternal life. He is the prize. The point of heaven is not to escape hell, but to experience an intimate, unbroken relationship with God and His Son forever. And that relationship begins the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and see Him as our source of eternal life.

Ascended, but Interceding.

Mark 16:19-21; Luke 24:50-53

And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them. – Mark 16:20 NLT

This is it. The end of the story of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. But is it really? While we will wrap up the closing moments of Jesus' ministry here on earth, He is far from done. His impact is far from over. He work is not yet complete. He finished that portion of God's plan for which He had come – offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind and dying on the cross as payment to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. But He rose from the dead "and was taken up into heaven and sat down at the place of honor at God's right hand" (Mark 16:19 NLT). Jesus returned to His Father's side. He rightfully took back His place of honor which had been reserved for Him while He was obediently accomplishing the will of His Father on earth. Paul reminds us that when He came to earth, "he did not think equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being" (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT). And when Jesus had "humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on the cross" (Philippians 2:8 NLT), God "elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names" (Philippians 2:9 NLT).

But what is Jesus doing now? What is His role at this very moment? Paul tells us, "Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who is interceding for us" (Romans 8:34 NET). He represents us before the Father. He is our representative before the very throne of God. And when God looks at us, He sees us through Christ's righteousness. We are covered by His blood. Our sins have been paid for and forgiven because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven" (Hebrews 7:25-26 NLT). God listens to Him. He is like personal legal representative before the throne of God. When we sin, He speaks on our behalf. And we do sin. John writes, "My dear children, I am writing this to you to that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous" (1 John 2:1 NLT).

We can rest assured that Jesus is doing His job. He is not in retirement mode. He is far from done. In fact, He is preparing to return and fully complete what He began. But in the meantime, we have work to do – just as the disciples did. Mark tells us that after Jesus ascended, the "disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs" (Mark 16:20 NLT). They had work to do. They had a message to share and spread throughout the world. And Jesus was with them. He confirmed their words with miraculous signs. His Spirit accompanied them and empowered them. Jesus was busy continuing His transformative work in their lives through the ministry of the Spirit. As they obeyed His command to go and tell, His Spirit was busy transforming these men into powerful messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was molding them into the likeness of Jesus Himself. And that is what He wants to do in each of our lives today. Jesus is in the life transforming business. He is actively pursuing heart-change in the lives of His followers. He is continually saving us from sinful selves. He is praying for us. He is interceding with the Father on our behalf. He is preparing a place for us. And He is planning to return for us. "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. The, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NLT).

Thank You Jesus, that You are not done. I am so grateful that You are my representative before God Himself. You have a place seated right next to Him and, while I am stuck here on this planet, You are speaking to Him on my behalf. You pray for me and plead my case for me before the Father. And You are some day coming back for me. I don't know when it is, but it gives me hope and confidence that helps me make it in this world. Your work of salvation is not yet complete. There is more to this story than just Your ascension into heaven. As the angel told the disciples on the day You left them, some day you will return from heaven in the same way they saw you go. Amen.

An Earth-Shaking Event.

Matthew 27:51-56; Mark 15:38-41; Luke 23:45-49

The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus' resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. – Matthew 27:51-53 NLT

It's hard for us to grasp just how momentous and significant the death of Jesus was. Each of the gospel writers tell us how His life ended. Matthew says that "Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit" (Matthew 27:500 NLT). Mark describes it this way: "Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last" (Mark 15:37 NLT). Luke gives a bit more detail, recording that "Jesus shouted, ‘Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!’ And with those words he breathed his last" (Luke 23:46 NLT). Finally, John records that Jesus was offered a sponge soaked in sour wine, and when He had tasted it he said, "‘It is finished!’ Then he bowed his head and released his spirit" (John 19:30 NLT). In each case, we see Jesus succumbing to the torture and pain to which He had been subjected. His body finally gave in to all the abuse, and Jesus closed His eyes and died. But at that moment, when it appeared that everything was over and His life was ended, some incredible, earth-shattering events took place. Matthew tells us that at that exact moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in half, from top to bottom. But that's not all. The earth shook, rocks split apart and tombs opened. There were some significant geological phenomena that went on. Matthew goes on to tell us that the earthquake itself was so intense that it terrified the Roman soldiers who were overseeing the crucifixion. Jesus' death was anything but normal or uneventful. It was spectacular and special because it signified a momentous change in the relationship between God and man. What is fascinating is that in the final moments of Jesus' death, the leading priests, teachers of religious law, and the elders mocked Jesus, saying, "He saved others, but he can't save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him!" (Matthew27:42 NLT). But rather than save Himself, Jesus dies so that He might save others. He died so that we might live. And at the moment He died, something miraculous happened. "The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead" (Matthew 27:52 NLT). Jesus did not save Himself from death, but in dying, He restored these people from death. He delivered them from the grave. This miraculous sign proved that He was who He claimed to be. He really was the King of Israel, and even in death, He had power over the grave. As He hung lifeless on the cross, He brought life back to those who had been dead. And three days later, when He rose from the dead, these rejuvenated individuals would appear in the city of Jerusalem. In essence, they represented the "first fruits," a symbol of what is to come. We don't know if these people went with the Lord when He ascended, or if they stayed on earth. If they stayed on earth, they would have had to have died a second time, just as Lazarus did. But what we do know is that their restored lives were evidence of Jesus' victory over death. He had truly conquered the grave. These people had been dead, but were now raised to new life, and they would appear to many who knew them, proving the veracity of Jesus' claim to be the Son of God.

When most men die, their story ends. Their influence dies with them. But Jesus' death made a powerful impact on the world. It literally shook the earth. It shattered rocks. It opened graves. It raised the dead. It defeated sin and death. It satisfied the demands of a just and holy God. It made possible new life and a restored relationship with God the Father. It was a game-changer and it continues to impact the world today. Jesus wasn't just another well-meaning martyr dying for a cause. He was the innocent Son of God, giving His life as payment for the sins of all mankind. His death was a powerful antidote to the curse of sin and the disease of death. What Jesus did on the cross struck a fatal blow to the enemy and eliminated the strangle hold he had on the lives and souls of men. It was earth-shaking, paradigm-shattering, and sin-conquering. Jesus had done His part. He had fulfilled His Father's will, and He was able to say, "It is finished." Now the rest was up to God the Father.

Father, no man's death has ever had the impact that the death of Jesus did. Earthquakes, miraculous signs and resurrected lives accompanied the death of Jesus. Because His death was like no other. His death was effective and powerful. It wasn't the end of something, but the beginning. Life as we know it was changed that day. The relationship between God and man changed that day. All because Jesus died. Thank You for sending Your Son as a sacrifice for me. Amen.

The Truth On Trial.

Matthew 27:2-14; Mark 15:1-5; Luke 23:1-7; John 18:28-38

Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." – John 18:37 NIV

Jesus had been brought before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Now the Jewish religious leaders would have to convince Pilate that Jesus was a threat to his government and worthy of death. I find it fascinating that these men were more than willing to use the Roman governor to carry out their plan to put Jesus to death, but refused to set foot in his house because of fear that it would defile them. What a clear contrast between their religion and what Jesus came to offer. He had spent His time with tax collectors and sinners. He had ministered to Roman centurions and Samaritans. He would have had no problem walking into Pilate's home, because Pilate was just the sort of person Jesus came to save. But on this occasion, the high council of the Jews stood outside Pilate's headquarters shouting accusations against Jesus. The charge of blasphemy, while more than enough cause for death as far as the Jews were concerned, would have meant nothing to Pilate. So they accused Jesus of a litany of trumped up charges, including telling the people not to pay their taxes to Rome. But Jesus would not respond to any of these false accusations. The only time He spoke was in reference to the truth regarding Him being the King of the Jews. Jesus explained, "My kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36 NLT). The truth was, Jesus was a King. He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. But His kingdom was of a completely different class and kind than that to which Pilate was familiar. Jesus had a throne, but it awaited Him in heaven. His kingdom was much greater and grander than anything the Romans or Caesar himself could ever imagine. For the time being, Satan would remain king of the world. He would maintain his authority and rule over the lives of men for a little while longer, but even that was going to change.

Jesus was not just a king, He was THE King. And it was for that reason He was born and why He came into the world. He was born to be King and He would die because He was King. But few, including Pilate, would recognize the truth of His claim. In fact, Pilate asked Jesus the age-old question, "What is truth?" (John 18:38 NLT). Which is ironic, because the one who referred to Himself as the way, the truth and the life was standing right in front of him. But Pilate didn't acknowledge the truth of who Jesus was, even though he referred to Jesus as, "this King of the Jews" when asking the Jews what they wanted him to do with Him. He found Jesus guilty of nothing more than claiming to be the King of the Jews, and it would be for this reason that Jesus would ultimately die. No other charge was ever proven against Him except that one. He acknowledged no other accusation against Himself, except that one. The truth was that Jesus was the King of the Jews. The truth was that Jesus was going to sacrifice His life for that of His own people. He was the King who would give up His life for the citizens of His own Kingdom.

Father, the more I study the last days of Your Son's life on this planet, the more I am blown away by the sheer magnitude of what He did for me. All of the events surrounding His final days are packed with meaning and overflowing with significance. Here was the King of kings standing before a lowly Roman governor, placing Himself at the mercy of a mere man and allowing him to decide His fate. Here was the King of the Jews allowing the so-called religious leaders of the Jewish people to falsely accuse Him and demand His execution. Here was the creator of the world allowing His own creation to treat Him like a common criminal. All so that the truth could be made known. His death was part of the truth. His selfless sacrifice was part of the truth. His substitutionary death was part of the truth. His resurrection would be part of the truth. And His eventual return will fulfill all truth. He was exactly who He claimed to be. Amen.

Out of This World.

John 15:18-27

"The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you." – John 15:19 NLT

Let's face it. We love to to be loved by this world almost as much as we enjoy loving all that it has to offer. The world can be an attractive place and there's something inside us that makes us want to be attractive in return. Worldliness, once the bane of the Christian's existence and a temptation to be avoided at all costs, has become not only acceptable, but fashionable. It is in to be of this world. Even as Christ-followers, we have this innate desire to be known by the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the homes we live in, the schools our kids attend, the country clubs we belong to, and even the churches we attend. To many of us, being worldly isn't a sin, it's just good business. It's how you get ahead – in this world. But Jesus gives us a sobering warning in this passage. He blatantly informs us that the world hates us. Why? Because we don't belong here anymore. When He chose us, He called us out of this world. Oh, sure, He left us here. We still have to live in this world, but this is not where we truly belong anymore. We have a home reserved for us elsewhere. Jesus told the disciples, "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father's home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am" (John 14:1-3 NLT). Jesus never intended for us to make ourselves at home here. Getting comfortable and cozy with the world can be dangerous to our spiritual health.

Peter echoed this idea long after Jesus had ascended back into heaven. "Dear friends, I warn you as 'temporary residents and foreigners' to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world" (1 Peter 2:11-12 NLT). Did you notice what he said? It is worldly desires that wage ware against our souls. John gives some much-needed advice that our generation could stand to listen to: "Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever" (1 John 2:1-17 NLT). Take a second to think about what he is saying here. If we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us. That's a pretty strong statement, and one we tend to gloss over fairly easily. Loving God and loving this world are not only incompatible, they're completely contradictory. As believers, we have three mortal enemies: The world, the flesh and the devil. Cozying up with any of the three is a sure way to threaten your spiritual health and destroy your effectiveness as an instrument in the Redeemer's hands.

In the Garden just before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus prayed to the Father, asking Him, "They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth" (John 17:16-17 NLT). That phrase, "make them holy" can also be translated, "sanctify them." It simply means to set them apart of consecrate them for a specific use or purpose. Jesus is asking the Father to not only set the disciples apart, but those who would be His followers in the generations to come. He goes on to pray, "Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth" (John 17:18-19 NLT). Again, Jesus knows that they are going to be left behind when He leaves. But He was not going to leave them alone or unequipped. Goud was going to provide them with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. "But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you" (John 14:26 NLT). They were going to be left in the world, but they would be far from alone and far from defenseless. But they would have to constantly fight the temptation to blend in with and grow comfortable being like this world. Compromise and complacency are both dangerous tendencies that the believer must avoid at all costs. The risk of falling in love with this world is a constant reality for the believer. Our sinful flesh craves it. Our eyes are naturally attracted to all the shiny trinkets it places in front of us. James reminds us that the problem lies within us, not outside of us. "Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away" (James 1:14 NLT). Our sinful human flesh wants what the world has to offer. Like a fish that can't control its insatiable appetite, we are easily lured to our deaths by the things of his world that look so beguiling and appealing. But James warns us, "These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death" (James 1:15 NLT). The world is out to kill us, just like it did Jesus. The enemy is out to destroy us, just like he tried to do to Jesus.

In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis chronicles the correspondence between a senior demon and a demon-in-training. This mentor provides his young charge with some interesting and enlightening insights into the methods for destroying Christ-followers. “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of really being at home on Earth, which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.” That is exactly what Jesus was warning His disciples about. And it applies to us just as much today as it did more than 2,000 years ago. Being at home here is not our objective. The apostle Paul sums it up well. "Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ" (Philippians 1:27 NLT).

Father, I echo the prayer of Jesus. Keep me from this world. Don't let me fall in love with all that it offers. Help me keep my distance and maintain my perspective. This world is not my home, I'm simply passing through. Let me live with an eternal perspective, not a temporal one. May I reflect my heavenly citizenship while I'm here – each and every day of my life. Amen.

The King And His Kingdom!

Matthew 25:1-26:5; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-2

"But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne." – Matthew 25:31 NLT

One of the themes of the Gospels that most of us seem to overlook or simply ignore is that of the Kingdom of Heaven. When we think of the Gospels, we tend to concentrate on Jesus as the Savior of the world. Because we are 21st-Century believers living in a western context, the whole idea of a King and a Kingdom does not resonate with us. But we have to remember that the New Testament is in harmony with and a fulfillment of the Old Testament. Jesus was the one who had been promised by God to Abraham. "And the Lord came to Abram, and said, I will give all this land to your seed; then Abram made an altar there to the Lord who had let himself be seen by him" (Genesis 12:7 BBE). That word translated "seed" is important. It can be translated "seed, offspring, or even descendants." So it would be natural to assume that God is promising the land of Canaan to Abraham's descendants. And that would be a right assumption. But Paul gives us an even better understanding of this passage. He writes, "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ" (Galatians 3:15-16 NASB). In other words, when God made His promise to Abraham, He was saying that, ultimately, He was going to give the land to Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, but also the Son of God and the King of kings. The land would belong to Him as its rightful ruler.

The Gospels are full of references to the Kingdom. In fact, when Jesus came into the world He was a fulfillment of countless Old Testament prophecies that predicted and promised the coming of a King, a descendant of David, who would sit on his throne forever. God had promised David, “Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you – a dynasty of kings!…Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for al time, and your throne will be secure forever” (2 Samuel 7:11, 16 NLT). But it had been hundreds of years since a descendant of David had ruled from a throne in Jerusalem. In fact, since their return from exile in Babylon, Israel had had no king at all. Then there was a 400 year period of oppression under a string of different countries, most recently Rome. The king who sat on the throne when Jesus was born was Herod, an Edomite, and not a descendant of David. But Jesus WAS a descendant of David. The lineage of Jesus found in Luke traces His line back to David through Mary. This establishes Jesus’ legal claim to the throne. The lineage found in Matthew traces the line of Jesus through Mary. This establishes Jesus’ hereditary claim to the throne. When Mary and Joseph obeyed the decree to go to their ancestral home for taxation purposes, they went to Bethlehem. "And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home" (Luke 2: 4 NLT). Jesus was of royal pedigree.

What did the angel tell Mary when he announced to her God's plan? “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1:31-33 NLT). Her son would be a king. He would rule just like David did, but His kingdom would be everlasting. Some time after Jesus' birth, even the magi came looking for a king. "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-2 NLT). At the birth of John the Baptist, his father, Zechariah prophesied about the royalty of Jesus even before He was born. "Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy: “Praise to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David” (Luke 1:67-68 NLT).

Why is this so important? Because Jesus was not just born to be our Savior, but to be King. The reality is that, one day, He will be King over all mankind whether they believe in Him or not. Paul reminds us, "Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11 NLT). But we will not all worship Him in the same way. Some will be His loyal subjects. Others will bow in subjugation. Some will be citizens. Others will be slaves – the captives of war. Some will be welcomed into His presence. Others will be cast out. Jesus' redemptive work on the cross, made it possible for men to be restored to a right relationship with God, so that we might live in His eternal Kingdom, under the righteous rule of Jesus Christ, forever. He will be our Savior AND our King. In fact, He is our Savior and King even today. But the problem is that, too often, we want to welcome Jesus as Savior, but refuse to let Him rule in our lives. We accept His gracious offer of eternal life, but we want to be the ones who rule and reign over our own lives.

Jesus spent a great deal of time teaching about the Kingdom. It was going to be drastically different than the one the Jews were anticipating. They were looking for a conquering king who would establish His kingdom on earth and set them free from subjugation to Rome. But Jesus came to establish a different kind of Kingdom. He came to set them free from slavery to sin. He came to release them from captivity to Satan and to release them from the condemnation of death as rebels against God. So much of what Jesus said about the Kingdom had to do with His future return. He was going to come back. And when He did, He would set up the kind of Kingdom the Jewish people had long been waiting for. Jesus taught about His eminent return as King. But it would not take place until He had suffered and died, paying the penalty for the sins of mankind. He would have to redeem mankind before they would accept His rule over them. Without His offer of salvation, we would never accept Him as sovereign. But the whole story of the Bible is about the righteous rule and reign of God over His creation. Jesus was born as King and He was crucified as King. At His trial, the soldiers mocked Him as King. "They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove a thorn branch into a crown and put it on his head. Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:17-18 NLT). On the cross, the sign that was nailed above His head carried the charge, "The King of the Jews." As He hung on the cross, the religious leaders mocked Him as King. "He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe in him!” (Mark 15:31-32 NLT). Jesus died because He was King. But He is coming again because He is King.

The Return of the King!

Jesus had taught His disciples that He would die, but He would rise again. He also told them that He would go away, but He would return some day. And when He did, He would establish His Kingdom once and for all. The Messianic Kingdom they anticipated would come, but not when they expected it.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.” –  Matthew 25:31-34 NLT

The Gospels record the arrival of the King and the beginning of His Kingdom. They record Jesus’ teaching regarding the Kingdom. They contrast the false view with the true image of the Kingdom. They establish Jesus as the King. It was for His claim to be King that He died. And it will be as a King that He returns.

Father, too often I am more than willing to acknowledge Jesus as my Savior, but refuse to let Him be my King. I take on that responsibility, attempting to rule my life according to my own standards and in an effort to live life on my own terms. But He died that I might live, and do so as His subject, a citizen of His Kingdom, submitting myself to His righteous rule over my life. Show me how to live, not just because of Him, but for Him. Amen.

The True Heart of Sacrifice.

Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4

“I tell you the truth," Jesus said, "this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, hsa given everything she has." – Mark 21:3 NLT

Jesus and His disciples are standing in the Temple grounds. He has just had a discussion with the religious leaders regarding His authority. Three separate times they have approached Him, asking questions designed to trap and expose Him. But Jesus has graciously and effectively handled all their inquiries, even taking the opportunity to ask a question of His own. There in the Temple courtyard, He is on enemy territory. This is the domain of the priests and religious leaders. He is on their turf. And yet Jesus has just warned the crowd to "Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they love to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished" (Luke 20:46-47 NLT).

These were not exactly kind and gracious words. I can't help but imagine that as Jesus spoke these words, He was able to look at the various priests, religious leaders, Pharisees and Sadducees walking around the courtyard in their flowing robes, trailing a retinue of dedicated disciples. But it is within this same environment, that Jesus points out the poor widow. While His disciples were probably enamored by the beauty of the Temple buildings and impressed by the pomp and circumstance of the religious elite, Jesus takes notice of the obscure and overlooked widow. Mark and Luke tell us that "he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box" (Luke 21:1 NLT). Jesus was people watching, but with a purpose. He was going to teach a lesson on giving for the benefit of His disciples. The process of giving in this context was a very visible one. The people lined up and one-by-one deposited their gift in the box. This would have been one of 13 different trumpet-shaped receptacles located around the Temple grounds. They were made of metal and the "dropping" of each person's gift would have made a distinctive sound. And of course, the more you gave, the louder the noise. So it would have been noticeable when the rich deposited their gifts. Those waiting in line or standing nearby would have heard the clanking of the metal coins as they were dropped into the container. To the untrained eye, it would have appeared that the wealthy were giving more than anyone else. But Jesus points out a very important point when it comes to giving. It is not so much the size of the gift, as it is the degree of sacrifice required of the one giving. Jesus points out that this poor widow, who only put in two measly coins, had actually given MORE than anyone else that day. Why? Because Jesus somehow knew that her gift represented the greatest degree of sacrifice. In spite of her poverty, she had given everything she had. Her gift was truly sacrificial and not superficial.

Jesus is not so much denigrating the gifts of the others as much as He is pointing out the true motive behind giving. Our giving is not to be for show. It should not be done to impress. But it should also not be done in such a way that it requires little or no sacrifice on our part. If you think about it, God does not need our money. He doesn't require our talents. When we give, whether it is our time, talents or treasures, we should do so as an expression of gratitude to Him for all He has done for us. He gave His Son so that we might have eternal life. But when we give to Him and we do it like the rich people Jesus saw – giving just a small portion out of their surplus – what does that communicate to God? We are giving Him something that costs us nothing. It is almost meaningless and of little value to us. But this widow gave all she had. She gave sacrificially and willingly. At the heart of true giving is sacrifice. It expresses to God that He has more value to us than whatever it is we are giving to Him. He is worthy of all that we have. He does not require that we give Him all, but He is not honored when we give what costs us nothing.

Father, too often I give to You out of my reserves or surplus. Or I give to you out of the dregs and leftovers of my time and energy. I give You those moments at the end of the day when I am exhausted and drained. I try to pray as I fall asleep, hoping that in some way that will honor You. I can so easily spend my money on my own needs and desires, giving to You something out of what I have leftover at the end of the month. Jesus pointed out this widow for a reason. It was not the size of the gift, but the heart of the one giving. May my giving, whether of my time, treasures or talents, be a holy sacrifice to You for all that You have done and continue to do for me. Amen.

The Law of Love.

Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

In this section of the Gospels, Jesus is being bombarded by a relentless series of questions posed to Him by various factions of the religious elite. First they questioned His authority, wanting to know what right He had to say and do what He did. Then the Pharisees tried to trick Him with a question regarding the payment of taxes to the Roman government. When they failed, the Sadducees, the liberals of their day, asked Him a question regarding marriage and the resurrection. The fact was, they didn't believe in resurrection and they wanted to show that Jesus was in opposition to their belief system. They viewed Jesus as a heretic and wanted to expose Him as such. But Jesus saw through their motives and easily handles their question. Like a tag-team wrestling match, the Sadducees are quickly followed by the Pharisees again. This time they raise a question concerning the Law – their area of expertise. "But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’” (Matthew 22:34-36 NLT).

This was common debate among rabbis. They were constantly arguing whether one commandment had precedence over another. And this was a significant issue to them because the Pharisees had codified the law into 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, and they had imposed this staggering list of 615 precepts on their followers. With that many laws, it wasn't long before one seemed to contradict another. For instance, over in the book of Leviticus, the Law records, "Do not stand idly by when you neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:16 NLT). The over in Exodus, it states, "…but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on that day must be put to death. You must not even light a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath" (Exodus 35:2-3 NLT). So if your neighbor’s life was threatened on the Sabbath, were you to do nothing? This argument came up regularly between Jesus and the Pharisees, because He healed regularly on the Sabbath, which they saw as a clear breaking of the Law. In essence, by asking Jesus this question, they are testing Him to see if He had any greater insight into the Law than them. And they seriously doubted that He did.

A Simple Solution

Jesus’ answer reveals His authority over the Scriptures. “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38 NLT). He quotes from the Shema, a portion of Scripture recited daily by all Jews. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5-6 NIV). This is the first part. The love of God was to dictate all their behavior. But there was a second part. “A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39 NLT). Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 and reminds them that this second part is equally essential. He tells them that they are to love God and love man.

What Jesus presents is not new, but He provides it with new emphasis and meaning. While the love of God is supreme, one of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our love for man.  "If someone says, "I love God," but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?"(1 John 4:20 NLT). Why was this so revolutionary and revelatory to the religious leaders? THEY DIDN’T DO IT! They said they loved God, but hated their brothers and sisters. As a matter of fact, Jesus was going to have some stinging things to say to them. “For they crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4 NLT). In His answer, Jesus was giving them a new way to see the Law of God. “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments" (Matthew 23:40 NLT). Every other law was based on a love for God and a love for man. The Ten Commandments themselves are divided into these two areas. There is a horizontal and vertical aspect to our love. You can’t have one without the other – they are reciprocal – and this Law of Love is found throughout the New Testament.

Owe nothing to anyone — except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These — and other such commandments — are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8-10 NLT

But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14 NLT

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. – James 2:8-9 NLT

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”John 13:34-35 NLT

Jesus puts love for God and love for man on equal footing. They are inseparable and yet the Pharisees claimed to love God, but hated their fellow man. They hated sinners of all kinds.

Who’s Your Neighbor?

Take a look at Luke 10. Jesus has an encounter with “an expert in religious law” – probably a lawyer and likely a Pharisee, one the experts in oral law. He comes asking what he has to DO to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the law says? "The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27 NLT).

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:28 NLT).

“The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NLT).

He wanted a little qualification and clarification. As a lawyer, he wanted to limit his responsibility for loving. He wanted to justify himself as a keeper of the law and therefore, qualified for eternal life, so he was hoping Jesus would say, “Just love those who are righteous like you.” But instead, Jesus tells him a parable. It involves an unidentified man on a 17-mile road trip from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a long and dangerous trip, plagued by thieves. The story revolves around a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. Two would have been well-respected, while the other was an outcast. As recorded in Luke 10, the man on the journey is accosted by thieves and left for dead. The priest sees him lying on the side of the road and crosses to the other side. The Levite passes by some time later, bothers to take a look at him, but leaves him just as he is. Finally, the Samaritan comes along and not only stops, he provides first aid. It says he felt compassion for him, soothed his wounds, bandaged him up and then put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he continued to care for him and covered the cost out of his own pocket.

After completing His story, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits” (Luke 10:36 NLT). To which he replied, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37 NLT). And Jesus promptly replied, "Go and do the same!" Jesus has just clarified the question of who our neighbor is. It is anyone God brings into our life in need. It is anyone to whom we have the capacity or opportunity to show love. When we do, it is the fullest expression of our love for God.

Over in Matthew 25:37-40, Jesus is talking about the future judgment of man. He uses the picture of a shepherd dividing between the sheep and the goats. This is an image what will take place at the end of the tribulation period. It is speaking of Gentiles who have survived the tribulation period. Some will have come to faith in God during that time. Their love for God will be evidenced by their actions and their treatment of the Jews who will be going through intense persecution during the final half of the tribulation. “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:37-40 NLT). Their love for others will be proof of their love for God. Their capacity to love others will be evidence of their hearts having been transformed by God. In fact, it will be the main criteria for judgment. All those who failed to do the same would be condemned. OUR LOVE OF OTHERS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO GOD. It proves our love for Him. It is proof that we understand His love for us. So how are you doing with these two commandments today? Do you claim to love God but struggle with loving others? Like the lawyer, do you want to qualify who your neighbor is to justify yourself? Since you can’t put your arms around God and hug Him or show Him love physically, He asks you to express your love for Him through others. How do you think you’re doing? Could you be tried in a court of law and convicted as a Christian solely based on your love for and treatment of others?

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:35 NLT

Father, I want to increasingly learn to love others as an expression of my love for You. It is so easy to dislike and even hate those whom You love. I can so easily forget that all men are made in Your image. It is easy to love those like me or those who agree with me. It is easy to love those who love me back or who love me first. But loving the unlovely or unloving is difficult. Yet that is exactly how You love me – when I was at my most unlovely and when I was totally out of love with You. Help me to love like You love. Amen.

The Three Parables.

Matthew 21:33-22:14; Mark 11:27-12:12; Luke 20:1-19

They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?” – Mark 11:28 NLT

This question posed by the Pharisees seems a bit odd, unless you keep it within its context. Jesus is walking with His disciples through the Temple area. They have just recently arrived back in town from their long walk from the village of Bethany where they are staying during the Passover celebration. According to Mark's chronology of the events surrounding this last week of Jesus' life, the day before Jesus had been in this same area, but was in a slightly different mood. He had walked on to the Temple grounds and angrily cleared out the moneychangers, overturning their tables. He drove away all those buying and selling animals for the sacrifices. And most importantly, Mark tells us, "he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace” (Mark 11:16 NLT). If you think about it, Jesus completely disrupted the entire sacrificial system for that day. He threw a wrench into the well-oiled machine of the corrupt religious system that had somehow replaced what God had established through Moses in the wilderness. What He observed taking place in the Temple that first Sunday He arrived in Jerusalem was more about men than God. He witnessed a religious system built on greed and corruption. Extortion and graft were rampant. At this point in time, even the priestly office had become more political than spiritual. They held their offices thanks to Rome and many of them held their positions based on payoffs made to the Roman government. So Jesus shut the whole thing down – even if only for one day.

That sets up the passage we are dealing with today. It is the next day and Jesus has arrived back in town. He is immediately confronted by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law and the elders. They demand to know who has given Him the authority to do what He has done. They are specifically talking about His disruption of the sacrificial system the day before. They are incensed because His efforts have made a personal impact on their pocketbooks. These men benefited financially from the sale of the sheep and doves for sacrifice. It is said that they had arranged the system in such a way that when people brought their sacrificial lamb to the priests for inspection to deem whether it was unblemished or not, the priests would find some fault with it, then require them to buy one of the truly unblemished lambs they had for sale. Then they would take the very lamb they had rejected and turn around and sell it to the next person in line. They had also set up a system that required everyone to exchange their currency for Temple currency, tacking on a high fee for the privilege. All of this revenue went into the Temple treasury, but much of it lined the pockets of the leading priests. So when they came to Jesus, they had a personal stake in this whole thing.

Their question had to do with authority or right. By asking their question, they are inferring that Jesus had no right or authority to do what He did. His actions were not in keeping with accepted tradition. In their mind, Jesus was a renegade and a trouble maker. He was not one of them. He had not gone through the proper channels or training. He had no authority because He had never been a disciple of one of the great rabbis. He was an imposter and needed to be dealt with as such. Without knowing it, they were actually questioning Jesus' kingship. Remember, just a few days before Jesus had rode into town to the shouts of "Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!" (Mark 11:9-10 NLT). Jesus had been welcomed as a king. But now they were questioning His authority and attempting to paint Him as a radical and a revolutionary.

Rather than answer their question, Jesus counters with one of His own. “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Answer me!” (Mark 11:29-30 NLT). Jesus puts them squarely on the horns of a dilemma. If they said John's authority was from heaven, they would be guilty of rejecting God. If they said it was of human origin, they risked alienating the people who saw John as a prophet. So they decided to plead ignorance. "We don't know," they responded. And as a result, Jesus refused to address their question regarding His authority. But in reality Jesus does answer their question. He does so by telling three short parables. He turns to the crowd and begins to teach in His usual method, using simple stories to teach a much deeper truth. But the context tells us what Jesus has in mind by telling these stories. The issue is one of authority and Jesus uses these stories to address their original question.

Three Parables – One Message

Over in Matthew's account, we have the three parables and they are the parable of the two sons, the parable of the landowner, and the parable of the wedding feast. In the first one, Jesus tells about a father with two sons, who orders the first son to go into the household vineyard and work. The son refused, but later repented and did what the father had asked. He orders the second sons to go and he initially agrees, feigning obedience, but later refuses, never doing what the father asked. Jesus asked, "Which one obeyed?" and they answered, "The first son." So what's the point? The religious leaders believed they were sons of the kingdom due to their heritage as descendants of Abraham. Jesus makes it clear that corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into God's Kingdom before they will. Why? Repentance and belief. The religious leaders refused to repent. They refused to believe. They would not acknowledge Jesus' claim to be the Messiah and His authority as their rightful King.

In the second parable, Jesus tells of a landowner who planted a vineyard and then leased it out and moved to another country. When the grape harvest came, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers to whom he had leased the land, beat one servant, killed another and stoned the last. So the landowner sent a larger group or servants and they were treated in the same way. Finally, he decides to send his own son, hoping that they will show him the respect he deserves. But when he arrives, they grab him, drag him out of the vineyard and kill him. Jesus asks what they think the landowner will do to these farmers when he returns. "The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest” (Matthew 21:41 NLT). Their own answer condemns them. So what's the point? Over the centuries, God had sent His prophets to His people, and they had been abused, rejected, and in many cases, killed. So He sent more and they were treated the same way. And now He had sent His Son, but He too would be killed in just a matter of days. In telling this particular parable, Jesus was referring to a story from the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7). Jesus makes sure they get the meaning of the story. “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Matthew 21:43-44 NLT).

Jesus is the stone that the builders will reject, but He will become the cornerstone. And Jesus, as King, had the authority to do as He wished – even if it meant taking away the Kingdom of God from those who rejected Him. The Pharisees didn’t miss the point. "When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them – they were the wicked farmers. They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet" (Matthew 21:45-46 NLT).

In the final parable, Jesus tells about a king who prepares a wedding for his son. He sent his servants to to get the guests he had invited. But they all refuse to come. So he sends more servants, but the invited guests ignore them, giving excuses and even trying to murder the servants. The king, obviously upset and offended, sent out his army to destroy these people and burn their town. Then he sent his servants to invite anyone they saw – good, bad or indifferent – to fill the banquet hall for his son's wedding. Evidently, the king even supplied wedding clothes to these people, because they would not have had any. But one man showed up improperly dressed, having failed to put on what he had been given. He was promptly bound and thrown out.

So what’s the point? God had invited the nation of Israel into His kingdom. Over the centuries He had sent His messengers, the prophets, to the Jewish people, with His call to repentance, but they had refused God's messengers, rejecting and even killing them. So Jesus told His listeners that God was going to deal harshly with that generation and with those of His own day. As a result, the invitation would be extended to any and all (Gentiles). God would open up the invitation to even those outside the Jewish community, even providing the proper "attire" for the wedding. Through His upcoming death on the cross, Jesus would clothe those who believed in Him with His own righteousness. He would replace their rags of sin with garments of righteousness, acceptable before God the Father. But if anyone tries to enter God's Kingdom clothed in their own righteousness, they will be rejected.

It’s all about a Kingdom and a King

Jesus had authority as the Son of God. The entire Old Testament message from the prophets spoke of Him. The nation of Israel had been invited to enter into His kingdom, but they would refuse. They had rejected the message of the prophets, of John the Baptist and would reject the offer of Jesus Christ. And the question you have to ask today, is whether Jesus Christ is the authority in your life. Do you listen to what He says and obey it? Have you accepted His invitation, or are you too busy, too good, or too smart to buy into something so hard to believe? Does the way you live your life reveal that you sometimes question whether Jesus has authority over your life? Do you refuse to put on the righteousness He has provided because you prefer your life just the way it is? Jesus not only wants to be the Savior, He wants to be your King. He wants to rule and reign in your life. He wants to lead you and direct you. He wants you to worship and obey Him. He wants you to live in submission to Him. Because He loves You and He alone knows what is best for you. He is a gracious, loving, merciful, righteous King who longs to provide for and protect His people.

Lord, there are so many times I question Your authority in my life. I want to do things my way. I want to rule and reign, making decisions according to my terms and on my timeline. I love the fact they You died for me, but sometimes, I'm not quite so sure I want You to decide for me. But You have the right and authority to be my King and my Lord. I have no business rejecting Your rule in my life. Forgive me and help me submit willingly to Your loving leadership in my life. Amen.

Have Faith In God.

Matthew 21:20-22; Mark 11:19-26

Then Jesus said to the disciples, "Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart." – Mark 11:22-23 NLT

This is one of those passages that gets used and abused on a regular basis. It gets lifted out of context and construed to mean just about anything people want it to mean. It has been used to justify all kinds of prayers, to inspire and encourage boldness in the lives of believers, and to support the name-it-claim-it theology of many groups. But what was Jesus really teaching that day? What was His point in cursing the fig tree, and then why did He turn that occasion into a lesson on prayer? As always, context is essential when unpacking this passage. Jesus is on His way back into Jerusalem with His disciples. The day before they had passed this very spot on their way from Bethany into the city. He had pronounced a curse on the fig tree and now, as they passed by it again, "the disciples noticed that it had withered from the roots up" (Mark 11:20 NLT). Peter, always eager to have his voice heard, pointed out this fact to Jesus, who then responds with a brief lesson on faith and prayer. It is important that this section of the passage be kept in context with everything else that has happened before it and that will come after it.

When the disciples see the fig tree in its withered state, they surely thought back to the day before when Jesus cursed it saying, "May no one ever eat your fruit again!" (Mark 11:14 NLT). Mark tells us the disciples clearly heard Jesus pronounce the curse on the tree. But apparently, it was not until the next day that it had fully withered and died. The disciples are amazed at all of this and Jesus uses this as a teaching moment. His main point has to do with faith. But notice that it has to do with the focus of our faith. There are those who would use this passage to teach that if you have faith that you can do something, you can do it. In other words, the focus of our faith needs to be in what it is that we want accomplished. But Jesus did not say, "Have faith in your efforts." He didn't encourage the disciples to "believe it hard enough and you will have it." No, He said, "Have faith in God." It would be easy to make this teaching by Jesus all about "moving mountains," or accomplishing mighty things for God. But what Jesus really seems to be trying to communicate is that all things are possible with God. He is unlimited in His strength. He is unstoppable and all powerful. So place your faith in Him. If God wants you to move a mountain, He will not only tell you, He will provide the power to make it possible. This is not about me determining what it is that I want to do or have done. This is about trusting God for His will and relying on His power to accomplish that will.

One of the significant details in this story is the location of Jesus and disciples when He tells it. They are standing somewhere between Bethany and Jerusalem. More than likely, they are somewhere on the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron Valley lies Mount Zion, the mountain range upon which Jerusalem sat. I believe Jesus is continuing to make a point about the state of affairs in Jerusalem. Oftentimes, the references to Mount Zion and Jerusalem are interchangeable in Scripture. The entire capital city of the Hebrew nation occupied this area. As in His cursing of the fig tree, Jesus is making a point about the judgment of God against the people of God for their fruitlessness and unfaithfulness. Have faith in God. He will deal with Jerusalem, and in just a few short years from this point in time, the city would be destroyed. When it comes to dealing with unfaithfulness and fruitlessness, have faith in God – He will act. Yes, Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray and to do so without doubt. They are to ask, believing that God will answer. But it is essential that when they pray, that they ask according to God's will. Our faith should be in Him, not in the nature of our request or the unbelievability of our expectations. Jesus says, "I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you've received it, it will be yours" (Mark 11:24 NLT). So is Jesus telling me that I can pray for a new Mercedes, and actually receive it, as long as I believe hard enough that I already have it? I don't think so. And yet, that is what some people try to twist this passage to mean. This isn't about us using God as some sort of cosmic Genie in a bottle. He does not exist to grant our wishes or fulfill our wildest dreams. Jesus did not curse the fig tree on a whim or as some sort of personal vendetta against the tree for failing to meet His needs. His cursing of the fig tree was a visual lesson for the disciples meant to teach them about God's intentions for the hypocritical religious leaders of the Jews. The object of our faith is to be God, not the outcome for which we are praying. If we focus on God, we can ask, fully believing that He will answer – as if it has already been done.

But it's interesting that Jesus closes out His teaching on prayer with a kind of disclaimer. He seems to try to tone down any enthusiasm the disciples might be feeling at the thought of having that kind of power available to them through the means of prayer. He tells them that "when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that Your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too" (Mark 11:25 NLT). In other words, before you start asking God to move mountains, ask Him to move in your own heart, confessing your sins and forgiving those who might have sinned against you. There seems to be a not-so-subtle hint from Jesus that we are to do some personal housecleaning before we attempt to move mountains for God. A right heart was going to be essential to having right motives when asking God to act on our behalf. God will not honor prayers prayed in anger, selfishness, pride, or aimed at accomplishing our will in place of His. We are to have faith in God. It is not the intensity or fervor of our prayers, the size of our requests, or the shocking nature of our expectations that God is interested in. It is the focus of our faith that concerns Him. Do we trust Him? Will we trust Him?

Father, I want to accomplish great things for You, but too often it for my own glory and so that I might be seen as a powerful resource in Your toolbox. But I know that I am to make You the focus, not me. I am to trust in Your power, not mine. Continue to teach me to have faith in You, and in nothing and no one else, but You. Amen.

From Darkness to Light.

John 12:20-50

"I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark." – John 12:46 NLT

When referring to Jesus, John used the metaphor of light throughout his gospel. He opened his account of the life of Jesus with these words, "… his life brought light to everyone.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it" (John 1:4-5 NLT). He went on to tell how John the Baptist, sent by God, told "about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony" (John 1:7 NLT). John the Baptist was to be a witness to the fact that "the one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world" (John 1:9 NLT). It's interesting how John used this word picture of light penetrating the darkness when referring to Jesus. It paints a vivid image of the state of the world from God's perspective. Mankind was immersed in a suffocating darkness, caused by the presence of sin and the absence of truth. For more than 400 years, God had remained silent, no longer sending any prophets with any messages of either warning or hope. During the period of the kings and all the way up until the exile of Judah to Babylon, God had spoken regularly and relentlessly, calling His people to return to Him. He had given them warnings of what was to come, but also assurances that He would be faithful to them. He promised to return them to the Promised Land from their 70 years in exile, and He kept His word. But then the prophets ceased and God fell silent. For more than 400 years the world suffered without a word from God. Darkness reigned. The light of God's truth dimmed. Even God's chosen people became a shadow of what He had intended them to be. Their priesthood had become more political than spiritual. Their land was under constant attack and they suffered defeat at the hands of the Syrians, Egyptians and Romans during that time. They practiced their religion, but they did so, as it were, in darkness. They no longer heard from God. And over time, they became accustomed to the darkness. The became acclimated to their surroundings and learned to live without the light. Like Gollum in J. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, they grew comfortable living in an environment lacking in light.

But God was not going to remain silent forever. He was not going to allow the darkness to continue. As He did at the creation of the world, God would penetrate the darkness with light. "Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness" (Genesis 1:3-4 NLT). At just the right time, God caused His light to shine into the world again. The classic Christmas carol, O Holy Night, describes the scene quite beautifully.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The prophet Isaiah predicted that this time would come. Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he wrote hundreds of years earlier, "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness,a light will shine" (Isaiah 9:2 NLT). He went on to describe the source of this light: "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6 NLT). Jesus Christ was the light of God penetrating the darkness that had engulfed the world and left men stumbling about blindly, attempting to grope their way toward a solution to their problem of sin, pain, and suffering.

Jesus made it perfectly clear why He had come and what was expected of those who heard His message. "I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in men will no longer remain in darkness" (John 12:46 NLT). But John tells us the sad reality: "But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him" (John 12:37 NLT). Jesus had come offering them hope. He had come providing them with a way to reestablish their relationship with God the Father. He offered them light to help them navigate the darkness of this world, but they refused it. Jesus did not come to eliminate the darkness, but to illuminate it. Darkness is simply an absence of light. He came to provide light where there had been none. But this Light would not be with them forever. In just a few short days, His life and the Light would be extinguished. Jesus told them so. "My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light" (John 12:35-36 NLT).

But by the end of that week, the Light of the world would be snuffed out. His life would be taken. Better yet, His life would be given, because He died willingly and gladly so that men might have eternal life and a permanent source of Light for their lives. Jesus had promised, "I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life" (John 8:12 NLT). His death made it possible for men to live in His light permanently – even while surrounded by the darkness of this world. Jesus came into the world as the Light of the world. He died so that His light might shine in the lives of men, making them sources of light that might illuminate the darkness. One Light became many lights. Paul made this clear when he wrote, "For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!" (Ephesians 5:8 NLT). We have the Light of the world within us, not just with us. He indwells us and illuminates our lives, not just our surroundings. And we have the capacity and responsibility to shine into the darkness of this world, making a difference, exposing sin, illuminating the way to the One who can make a difference in the lives of men. Paul went on to say, "For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible" (Ephesians 5:9-14 NLT).

Those of us who are in Christ, have Christ in us. We have His light shining in and through us. We are lamps in the darkness, providing hope by revealing the truth of God's transforming power in our lives. We are to shine as Jesus did. We are to expose darkness as He did. We are to illuminate the darkness, not attempt to eliminate it. When we live as children of the light, the darkness naturally recedes before us. Darkness cannot dwell in the presence of light. It diminishes as the light grows stronger. May we become increasingly bright lights in this sin-darkened world, "for light makes everything visible."

Father, thank You for illuminating the darkness of my world with the Light of Your Son. Now help me to live as a child of the Light in the world in which You've placed me. Help me to shine brightly. Help me to clearly point the way to You for those who still live in darkness and cannot see for themselves. May my life by a light on a hill, clear for all to see, and a magnet to those who desire to escape the darkness of sin in their lives. Amen.

The Cursing and The Cleansing.

Matthew 21:10-19; Mark 11:12-18; Luke 19:45-48


When he arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. – Mark 11:15-16 NLT

One of the reasons it is important to read each of the gospels simultaneously and in what is called a "harmony" is that it provides you with a much more accurate timeline of the events. The gospels were written by four different men, each addressing a different audience and with a different purpose in mind, so they each included or omitted certain details depending on the point they were trying to make. Matthew was writing predominantly to a Jewish audience, so he included many details that were pertinent or relevant to them. Mark was writing to a mostly Gentile audience, those who had been converted to Christianity from pagan religions, and so he leaves out the entire genealogy of Jesus and goes straight to the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry. Luke was a Greek physician writing to the Gentile individual named Theophilus. Luke was not a disciple of Jesus, but had become a close friend and companion of Paul. He tells us the reason he wrote his account right at the outset. "Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught" (Luke 1:3-4 NLT). John, a disciple of Jesus, writes his account to an audience made up of new Christians and those who were still seeking and searching. These four different men, while telling the same story, each had four different objectives in mind. By comparing and compiling their four stories, you get a much more detailed and accurate view of the events surrounding the life of Jesus. And that is important when reading the account of Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of His last week on earth.

After entering Jerusalem on Sunday to the shouts of Hosanna and the seeming acceptance of the crowds, Mark tells us Jesus went to the Temple and, "after looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples" (Mark 11:11 NLT). Bethany would be their home base during what is called the Passion Week. They would return there each evening and spend the night. Then each morning they would make their way back to the eastern gate of the city of Jerusalem, passing through the Mount of Olives along the way. It would have been about at two-mile walk. On Monday morning Jesus and the disciples returned to Jerusalem and along the way they passed a fig tree. Jesus "noticed a fig tree in full leaf and little way off, so the went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leave because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, ‘May no one eat your fruit again!’ And the disciples heard him say it” (Mark 11:12-14 NLT).  This sequence of events is important if we are to understand what Jesus does next. Jesus curses the fig tree first. Then He and the disciples made their way to the Temple where He "entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace" (Mark 11:15-16 NLT). If you take these two events out of order or try to deal with them independently, they become difficult to understand. The cursing of the fig tree makes sense only if you keep in mind what Jesus did next.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem that Sunday and took a look around the Temple grounds, He saw what had become of His Father's house. He assessed the situation and then left for the day. On the way back in the next morning, He sees the barren fig tree and curses it. Matthew tells us that Jesus was hungry and when He goes to find fruit on the tree, there is none. But His cursing of the tree is not done out of anger or vindictiveness. This was not some petty power display done on Jesus' part. This was a visible lesson being taught to the disciples. One of the important points in the story is that the tree was in full bloom. It was a healthy, visibly vibrant tree that had all the appearances of fruitfulness. But there was none. Think back on what John the Baptist had to say to the Jewish religious leaders, "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance’” (Matthew 3:7-8 ESV).

Now we could do a lengthy study on the fruit-bearing properties of the Middle Eastern fig tree, but that is not the point of the story. There are commentators who try to explain that the fig tree in that part of the world has fruit on it year found. Others say if it was in leaf, it should have had fruit. But all we know from the gospel accounts is that IT HAD NO FRUIT. Mark tells us it was not the season for fruit, and yet, Jesus hungered for fruit. He came expecting to see and enjoy fruit. BUT THE TREE WAS EMPTY OF FRUIT. It was appealing to the eye, but failed to meet Jesus' expectations. As usual, this event had much to do with Jesus' perception of the religious leaders of His day. Jesus had accused the Pharisees of doing everything for show. "They do all their deeds to be seen by others" (Matthew 23:5 ESV). But this problem had become a national epidemic. To all appearances, the nation of Israel had all the trappings of religious fervor and faith. They had a place of worship – the Temple. They practiced the religious requirements as handed down by God – Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles, the Law, etc. They had a priesthood. They made regular sacrifices to atone for their sins. In his book, The Words and Works of Jesus, J. Dwight Pentecost writes, “Like the leafy tree, they had given external evidence of being fruitful but on examination they were seen to be barren and fruitless. Therefore judgment had to come on that generation.”

Mark tells us that it was the next morning, as they passed by the fig tree again, that the disciples noticed it was withered from the roots up. "Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, ‘Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!’” (Mark 11:20-21 NLT). So what's the point? The cursing of the fig tree was a statement against the spiritual hypocrisy and religious formalism of the Pharisees. The fig tree had all that was required for fruitfulness, but no fruit. Jesus uses the moment to teach the disciples an important lesson on faith, and He makes the main point right at the outset: "Have faith in God" (Mark 11:22 NLT).

No faith. No Fruit.

It was the lack of faith in God that resulted in Israel’s barrenness. They were not experiencing the power of God in their lives (Mark 11:23). They were not enjoying answered prayers from God (Mark 11:24). Their prayers were hindered by hatred and unforgiveness (Mark 11: 25). Over in the book of John we read the words of Jesus, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in my, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father” (John 15:5-8 NLT). Fruitfulness and faith go hand in hand.

When Jesus cleansed the Temple, He shouted, "The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves’” (Mark 11:17 NLT). They were stealing glory from God. They were abusing the people of God. They were more obsessed about financial gain than holiness. They were more interested in fleecing the people than faithfulness. But God’s house was for all people. Jesus had come for all men. Salvation was for all who would believe. They had taken the court of the Gentiles, the only place non-Jews could worship, and turned it into a three-ring circus. It was here they had set up their system of graft and greed, disguised as religion. But at the end of the day, Jesus' cleansing of the Temple was all about obedience and faithfulness. It was about commitment to the Lord and not religiousness and ritual. Jesus compared them to their rebellious ancestors and concludes that NOTHING HAD CHANGED! The Temple was not going to save them. It was the God of the Temple who was their only hope. It was the people who God had called to His Temple who were important.

Over in his letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul reminds us, "Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT). Jesus is still looking for fruitfulness from His people. That fruitfulness is only possible through faith in God. But those who have faith in God and believe in the Son of God will experience the fruit of the Spirit and the power of God in their lives.

Father, You have called us to be fruitful. You have given us Your Spirit to produce His fruit in us. But it requires that we have faith in You, not ourselves. You are not looking for religious zeal and hard work. You are not waiting to be impressed by our own self-effort, but You are looking to see if we will wait on You and lean fully on You. You want to produce Your fruit in us and reveal Your power through us. Help us learn to have faith in You! Amen.

The Background To His Entrance.

Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19


The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” – John 12:12-13 NLT

The Triumphal Entry of Jesus. Like His birth, Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection, this is one of those moments in the life of Jesus that has been seared into our memory. It has taken on the quality of a Hallmark card, complete with the idyllic scene of Jesus sitting on the small colt of a donkey, surrounded by an adoring crowd of people waving palm branches and shouting His praises. We don't doubt that it happened, but it has become so familiar a scene to many of us that we no longer look at it with any sense of credulity or wonder. When I read the account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem I can't help but ask, “What is really going on here?” Even as a young boy, I would wonder why these people were so excited about Jesus coming into Jerusalem, when none of them ever seemed to believe in Him before. Why were thousands of people suddenly hailing Him as the King of Israel and acknowledging Him as the Messiah, “the one who comes in the name of the Lord”?

As is always the case when reading Scripture, context is essential. But many of us have been raised on a steady diet of Bible stories lifted out of context and forced to stand on their own as isolated little vignettes, each carrying their own moral message or story line. But the Triumphal Entry did not happen in isolation. It was part of a series of events that were all working together to help set the stage for the final days of Jesus' life on this planet.

To understand what was going on in the streets of Jerusalem that day, you have to back up to the first part of chapter 12 of the book of John. There you will discover that six days before Passover, Jesus had been in the village of Bethany. He was there to visit the home of Lazarus, the man He had miraculously raised from the dead not many days before. This event had caused quite a stir. Those who had come to mourn the death of Lazarus, and then witnessed him walking out of the tomb alive, couldn't help but be impressed with this man called Jesus. News spread quickly. John tells us, “Many of the people who were there with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen” (John 11:45 NLT). But when the religious leaders heard what had happened, there response was to begin to plot the death of Jesus. This was the last straw for them. Jesus was garnering far too much attention. He was creating too much of a distraction and causing too great a disturbance to their way of life to be ignored any longer. This all took place in the village of Bethany, located just about two miles east of Jerusalem. John also tells us that since it was almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, people from all over the country were arriving in town early in order to go through the required purification process for Passover. There would have been millions of people flocking into Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, looking for places to stay during the Passover celebration. Bethany, being so close to the city, would have been a likely stopping point for many of them. Because the fantastic news of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead had been spreading like wild fire, these visitors to Jerusalem were all looking for Jesus. John tells us, “They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to one another, “What do you think? He won't come for Passover, will he?” (John 11:56 NLT). The Pharisees and leading priests had spies out looking for Jesus so they could arrest Him. But Jesus had left the region for a time and chapter 12 records His return just six days prior to Passover.

He had dinner with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. It was Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus, a sign of gratitude for what He had done for her brother Lazarus. While Jesus acknowledged that this was in preparation for His coming burial, there is no indication that Mary had this in mind when she did what she did. John tells us that when news of Jesus' arrival got out, people “flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead” (John 12:9 NLT). The crowds gathered and the religious leaders plotted. Now they decided to kill Lazarus as well, probably in an attempt to eliminate the evidence to Jesus' miracle. The fact was, Lazarus had become a celebrity and a walking witness to the Messianic claims of Jesus. He was living proof of Jesus' power and was not afraid to talk about it. John tells us that it was the very next day, right after Jesus' dinner at the home of Lazarus, that He instructed His disciples to find the colt and prepare for His entrance into Jerusalem. The key to understand what went on that day is found in verses 17-18 of John 12. “Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. That was the reason so many went out to meet him – because they had heard about this miraculous sign” (John 12:17-18 NLT). It was the raising of Lazarus from the dead that guaranteed Jesus' a huge welcome that day. It was also His raising of Lazarus from the dead that guaranteed that the religious leaders would determine to kill Him. This amazing, miraculous, awe-inspiring event, which should have been more than enough proof to support Jesus claims to be the Messiah, would set in motion His ultimate death. The people waving palm branches and shouting praises that day didn't really believe in Jesus. They were enamored with His miracles. The religious leaders weren't impressed with Jesus' power, they simply wanted to eliminate His presence. Back in Luke 16, Jesus told the fictional story of the rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. I think Jesus chose that name for the beggar for a reason. At the end of that story, Jesus has the great patriarch of Israel, Abraham say, “If they won't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31 NLT).

Now, not long after raising Lazarus from the dead, and just days after His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus would be rejected, tried and crucified. His message and His miracles would be forgotten. His claim to be the Messiah would be ignored. Their own assertion that He was “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” and their shouts of “Hosanna!” would turn to screams of “Crucify Him!” But the raising of Lazarus made possible His rousing welcome by the people and guaranteed the blood-thirsty response of the religious leaders. It was all necessary for God's plan to be fulfilled and Jesus' mission to be completed.

Father, it is incredible to read the details required for Your redemptive plan to work the way it did. So many things had to happen at just the right time and in just the right way for everything to line up the way it did. So many individuals had to be involved, many of them in ways they were totally oblivious to. Judas had to betray Jesus. Peter would have to deny Him. Lazarus would have to die. Mary would anoint Him. The people would wildly welcome Him. The disciples would desert Him. But it was all part of Your divine redemptive plan. What an amazing God You are! Amen.

A Contrast of Kingdoms.

Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-52; Luke 18:35-19:27; John 11:55-12:11

The replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

One of the things that jumps out in the Gospels as we near the end of Jesus earthly life and ministry, is the growing contrast between the views of Jesus and the disciples regarding the coming Kingdom. The story recorded in Matthew and Mark gives us a pretty clear indication that the disciples were still expecting Jesus to set up His Kingdom on earth. He would rule and reign from the throne of David right there in Jerusalem. He would defeat the Romans and make the Jews a power to be reckoned with just like they were in the glory days of David and Solomon. The nation of Israel would once again have power, prestige, and experience peace and prosperity. And the disciples saw themselves as playing significant roles in Jesus' earthly Kingdom, because they had sacrificed everything to follow Him. Remember Peter's statement to Jesus back in Matthew 19? “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27 NLT). Each of the disciples were hoping to benefit greatly from their relationship with Jesus. They fully expected to be part of His inner circle when He finally quit beating around the bush and established His Kingdom.

But Jesus had a different view of what was going to happen in the days ahead. He knew full well that His mission, as given to Him by God, would first involve a crucifixion, not a coronation. He would have to suffer and die before He could rule and reign. A cross would be His next stop, not a throne. So when James and John take Jesus aside and ask Him to do them a favor and assure them the two top spots in His administration, Jesus has to correct their thinking. Matthew even indicates that they had gotten their mother involved in this whole matter. The ironic thing is that they ask Jesus to let them “sit” on His right and on His left. Jesus breaks the news to them, “You don't know what you are asking!” They really didn't want to be on His right or His left when the time came for Him to be “lifted up.” Those two spots were actually reserved for two unnamed, common criminals. Jesus knows what He is about to go through in the not-too-distant future, and He asks them, “Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” (Mark 10:38 NLT). As was so often the case, the two disciples assure Jesus they are fully capable. “We are able!” they exclaim. They still didn't get it. They were clueless as to what was really about to take place, even though Jesus had told them repeatedly that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

When the other disciples caught wind of what James and John were doing, they were indignant. They were jealous and upset that they hadn't gone to Jesus first. All of these men were jockeying for position and battling for prime spots in what they believed to be was Jesus upcoming royal administration. So Jesus reminds them that things are slightly different in God's Kingdom. It will not be about who is the greatest. It will not be a matter of who is first and foremost. No, Jesus tells them, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else” (Mark 10:43-44 NLT). This was not exactly what they wanted to hear. What Jesus was saying made no sense whatsoever. But Jesus assured them that this was the way things were in God's Kingdom and it even applied to Him. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for man” (Mark 10:45 NLT).

Over in the book of Luke, Jesus tells a parable to the disciples, “to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away” (Luke 19:11 NLT). Jesus was going away. After His death and resurrection, He would be returning to His rightful place at the side of His Father in heaven. And He would be leaving the disciples on earth to accomplish the mission He would be giving them. They would be expected to faithfully use all that He had given them over the last three years, and to steward the gifts that would be provided for them by the Holy Spirit when He came. So that when Jesus returned the next time, they would be found to have been faithful and rewarded in full. “…and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given” (Luke 19:26 NLT). There was much to be done before any of the disciples received their rewards or places of prominence in Christ's Kingdom. And before that could happen, they would have to faithfully complete their assignment, just as Jesus was about to do.

Another compelling reminder that Jesus' Kingdom was not going to be earthly in nature, was the anointing He received at the hands of Mary, the grateful sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. Mary took a 12-ounce jar of very expensive perfume and anointed Jesus' feet, wiping it off with her hair. Jesus indicates that this was in preparation for His coming burial. In other words, He was not being anointed in preparation for His coming coronation, but His crucifixion and death. So when Jesus told the disciples, “You don't know what you are asking,” He knew what He was talking about. Neither James or John would want to be on His right or left when Jesus completed His God-given assignment. He would be hanging on a tree, and hanging beside Him, on His right and left, would be two guilty criminals. For the Kingdom of God to be established, the Son of God had to suffer and die. For Jesus to eventually rule and reign, He would have to conquer sin and death.

Things were not what they seemed. The Kingdom of God would not be what the disciples expected. His Kingdom was of a spiritual nature. It involved suffering, sacrifice and servanthood. It required the sinless Son of God to selflessly give His life so that others might live. The earthly Kingdom of God is coming. Jesus will eventually rule and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem. And the disciples will have places of prominence in that Kingdom. But much had to happen first. The enemy Jesus came to defeat was not the Romans, but Satan. The Kingdom He came to establish was not to be temporary, but permanent. And that day is coming.

Father, thank You for sending Your Son to suffer and die. Your plan was not what the disciples expected and it is often not what I would choose. But it is perfect because You are righteous, all-knowing, and good. I am grateful that Jesus sits on a throne even now and that He rules in my heart, when I am willing to allow Him to do so. He is exalted on high and sits at Your right hand, and some day He is coming back. I am grateful that the kingdom the disciples wanted never came about. I am thankful that Your plan is going to be fulfilled in perfection and the ultimate rule and reign of Christ over all the earth is coming. Amen.

A Kingdom and A Cause.

Matthew 20:1-19; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:31-34

"Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?” – Matthew 20:15 NLT

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. His time on earth is coming to a close. His mission is reaching its final conclusion. And as He journeys toward His final destination, He continues to teach His disciples, attempting to prepare them for what they will face when they reach Jerusalem, and to equip them with an understanding of His Kingdom. All of this will be needed when He returns to His Father in heaven, leaving them to continue His ministry as His ambassadors and messengers.

Chapter 20 in Matthew follows nicely after the incident with the rich young man who came to Jesus asking, "What good deed must I do to have eternal life?" (Matthew 19:16 NLT). His view of the Kingdom of God was based on earning and effort, and he was not alone. The disciples held the same view, because it was prevalent among the people of Israel. Their religion had become performance-based and was based on a concept of earning and reward. This young man had come looking for one more thing that he must do to secure eternal life for himself. He was probably wanting assurance that he had already done all that was necessary, and was basing his belief that he was in God's favor on the fact that he was richly blessed by God in this life with "many possessions." Therefore, God was surely going to bless him in the next life. But Jesus broke the news to him that all his possessions were useless to him in either this life or the next. He told the young man to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and follow Him instead. But the man walked away sad. The cost was too high. The commitment too great. His wealth had become his savior and security.

Now Jesus tells His disciples a parable that is designed to give them a better understanding of the Kingdom of God. He compares it to a landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Through the course of the day, at nine o'clock, Noon, three o'clock, and as late as five o'clock in the afternoon, he hired workers and promised to pay them all "whatever was right at the end of the day" (Matthew 20:4 NLT). When he came upon the group, he had asked them why they weren't working and they replied, "Because no one hired us" (Matthew 20:7 NLT). This is an important point, because it indicates that these individuals wanted to work, but were deemed either unqualified or incapable. But this landowner was willing to put them on his payroll and invited them to join the others in the vineyard.

At the end of the day, he had his foreman call all the workers in and had him pay each of the workers their wages, starting with the ones who he hired last and working up to those who had put in a full-day's worth of work. To the surprise of the latecomers and the consternation of those who had worked all day, each received the same amount of money. When those who had worked all day saw that the latecomers had received a full-day's pay, they expected to get a bonus for all their hard work. But their pay was no bigger or smaller. So they complained to the landowner, making sure he understood that they had put in greater effort and therefore, deserved greater pay. The complained of injustice and demanded justice. But the landowner defended his actions and let them know that he was fully in his rights to do with his money as he saw fit. They had received a fair day's wages for a full day of work. They had not been cheated or treated unfairly. These people had lost sight of the fact that, until that morning, they were unemployed and without any waged, but the landowner had hired them sight unseen and offered them the opportunity to work for him. And they had received the benefits of accepting the landowner's invitation. It seems that these people thought their pay was based on their effort and the amount of work they had performed for the landowner. In the story, Jesus makes it clear that each was payed, not based on the amount of work done, but based on the grace of the landowner. Remember, this is a story about the Kingdom of God. The issue is effort and earning versus grace and the unmerited favor of God. In Jesus' day, the Pharisees and religious leaders thought that their place was secure because they "worked" for God. They believed that their pious lifestyle secured them a place in God's Kingdom. But Jesus assures the disciples that that is not how things work in God's economy. His is a grace-based economy. God can and does invite anyone into His Kingdom that He so chooses. It is not based on their worthiness, hard work, status in life, talents, or treasures. It is not based on how gifted they are or how much they can give. It is completely based on grace. Paul reiterated this point when he wrote, "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).

As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He was giving His disciples an intensive crash-course in the Kingdom of God. Their views were going to have to change. But it was going to be difficult for them. They were not going to get it at first. In fact, each time Jesus tried to inform them that He was on His way to Jerusalem to be unjustly tried and killed, they didn't understand. Luke tells us, "The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about" (Luke 18:34 NLT). But in time, they would discover that things in the coming Kingdom were going to be a lot different than they ever expected. Humility would replace pride. The first would be last and the last first. The self-righteous would be left out and the repentant sinners included. God's Kingdom would be grace-based, and made freely available to all who would simply believe.

Father, I can't thank You enough that inclusion in Your Kingdom is based on grace and not effort. Because otherwise, I would not be included. I have done nothing to deserve Your good favor. My status as one of Your children is solely based on the work of Christ on the cross, and not on anything I have done or attempted to do for You. All of my works are as filthy rags in Your eyes. But the righteousness of Christ has been credited to my account. His work, done on my behalf, is what secures my relationship with You. And I did nothing to deserve it. Amen.

With God, Everything Is Possible.

Everything Is Possible.

Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” – Matthew 19:26 NLT

If we keep the verse above within its context, Jesus is addressing the issue of salvation. Of course, we could easily say that it could apply to just about anything. With God, everything really is possible. But Jesus made this statement in answer to a question from His disciples. They had asked, "Then who in the world can be saved?" They were confused over an exchange between Jesus and a young man who had come asking what he must do to have eternal life. His exact question was, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" (Matthew 19:16 NLT). In other words, he was looking for a task to perform or a deed to do. His was a performance-based mindset where actions resulted in rewards. We learn a little later that he is a wealthy young man "for he had many possession" (Matthew 19:22 NLT). His life had been a testament to earning through effort. Sure, he could have inherited all that he had, but he somehow knew that if he wanted something of even greater value – eternal life – he was going to have to DO something to earn it.

Jesus knew his heart. He knew him to be a type-A, driven individual who would take seriously any word of advice or five-step formula Jesus might give him. So Jesus simply answered, "Keep the commandments." Being a cut-to-the-chase kind of a guy, the young man asks, "Which ones?" He didn't want to waste time with any commandments that weren't going to count in his quest for eternal life. So Jesus lays out a few. "You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 19:18-19 NLT). To which the man proudly replied, "Done that! What else?" Now, let's be honest. Do we really think this young man had kept all these commandments? I'll spot him the first two, but I can't believe he never stole or testified falsely, or that he always honored his father and mother and loved his neighbor selflessly. He may have thought he had kept these commandments, based on his own criteria or standard, but the chances are high that he had not. Jesus' response to his question, "What else?" is very interesting. "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21 NLT). Notice the word, "perfect." In the Greek it is the word teleios and it means "wanting nothing necessary to completeness." It is the same word used by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount when He said, "But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48 NLT). The idea is to be complete, lacking nothing. God is perfect, whole, complete, and lacks nothing. This man had it all from a worldly perspective, but was lacking one thing: Eternal life. He was not perfect. And interestingly, Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give the money to the poor. Jesus challenges him to let go of all the things he had pursued in search of the perfect, complete, whole life and give it away. And He follows that up with an invitation to follow Him. Perfection, completeness and wholeness will never be found in this life short of selling out to follow Jesus. Now, this is not a universal teaching truth from Jesus that every single individual must sell all their possessions and give away their money before they can follow Him. He knew this man's real problem. He was in love with the world and his wealth. He had spent years seeking perfection and completeness in material things. Giving all that up was not a possibility for this man, and so we're told "he went away sad."

Then Jesus makes a statement that shocked the disciples, because it went against all that they had been taught. It contradicted their view of life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 19:23 NLT). They believed wealth was a sign of God's blessing. Now Jesus was telling them that wealth was actually a deterrent to eternal life. Why? Because wealth or material things can easily become a means by which we seek perfection or completeness. Just one more thing. Just a little bit more money. Just a slightly bigger house in a slightly better neighborhood. Just a little bit newer and nicer car. Just a few more additions to the wardrobe. But back in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught, "So don't worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need" (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT). Jesus was inviting this man to do this same thing. He was challenging him to stop worrying about money and stuff, and to start truly seeking God's Kingdom, instead of his own.

But when the disciples ask who in the world can be saved, Jesus tells them the most important truth in this entire conversation: "Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible" (Matthew 19:26 NLT). Salvation is a work of God, not man. We can't save ourselves. It is an act of God made possible through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This man couldn't earn it or perform some take to merit it. He was going to have to give up all his self-effort and throw aside all that he put his hope in and had based his future on, and turn to Jesus as the only way to eternal life. From a human perspective, salvation is impossible. It is out of our hands and beyond our reach. But God has made it possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son.

Father, thank You that You don't require us to earn our salvation, because none of us could pull it off. We are incapable of living sinless, perfect lives apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. But Father, there are still so many things that distract us from leaning completely on You. We can still put way too much hope in the things of this world and forget that the most important objective of our lives is holiness, not happiness. Keep us focused on building Your kingdom, not our own. Amen.

Child-Like Faith.

Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn't receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” – Luke 18:17 NLT

Innocence. Vulnerability. Need. Dependence. Honesty. Helplessness. Trust. Those are just a few of the characteristics of most little children. They are inherently trustworthy. They take us at our word. Some would call them gullible and naive, but there is an innocence about them that is refreshing. They are honest, sometimes painfully so. I remember the time I was standing in yet another long grocery store line. I had one of my kids with me. He was sitting contentedly in the seat in the grocery cart, when all of the sudden he blurted out, "Daddy, that lady is really fat!" I was suddenly shocked out of my fascination with the assortment of candy bars in the nearby rack, to see my son pointing at the rather large woman standing right in front of is the line. She was staring angrily back at me. While I didn't fully appreciate my son's timing, I had to agree with his assessment. I just wish he would have kept it to himself or shared it with me in the car later. Kids are honest. They say what they think. My son meant no harm and didn't know he was saying something hurtful. He simply saw, assessed and spoke what was on his mind.

Children are naturally dependent. From the moment they are born, they are reliant on others for their care, feeding, support and protection. They cannot fend for themselves. Unlike most other mammals, whose offspring are up and running in a matter of days, human newborn are totally defenseless for years. They can't walk, talk, feed themselves, or do anything to meet their own needs. They must depend on others for everything. Even as they grow older, they recognize that mom and dad are there to provide for them. They understand that, when in trouble, they are to run to their parents for help. When they're scared, they seek out someone bigger and stronger to protect them. They seem to sense their own limitations and are not afraid to turn to others for help.

And children are trusting. At least when they are young. That's why we have to warn them about strangers. Left to themselves, they would follow anyone just about anywhere. Those who choose to harm children know this fact and use it to their advantage. Children are susceptible to being deceived because they are prone to trust others. The sad fact is that it doesn't take long for them to lose this attribute. Before we know it, they begin to question everything and everyone. They quickly become distrustful. Their natural curiosity and inquisitiveness can easily turn into doubt and distrust. Some of that is necessary for them to survive in the world, but it is still sad to watch children lose their innocence and trust.

In these three Gospel accounts, we are given a glimpse of Jesus as He interfaces with some little children. Their parents had brought them to Jesus to be blessed by Him. The disciples, illustrating the value that their society put on children, tried to quickly usher them away. They saw no value in them. They even scolded the parents for daring to bother Jesus with such trivial matters. After all, He was the Messiah. He didn't have time to waste blessing children. But Jesus shocked the disciples by demanding that they let the children come to Him. He placed them on His lap and said, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children" (Luke 18:16 NLT). There was something about those children that resonated with Jesus and represented what He was looking for in His followers. Unlike the religious leaders, the children didn't doubt and cast dispersions on Jesus' identity. They simply ran to Him and jumped into His lap. They embraced Him. They viewed Him as someone they could trust. Their parents brought them to Jesus, so they saw no reason NOT to trust Him. These children did not come expecting or demanding anything from Jesus. Their needs were simple. They didn't come to be blessed, but simply enjoyed being noticed, loved, and cared for. In a society that shunned children and placed little to no value in them, to have Jesus show them love and attention was more than enough for them.

Jesus saw in these children the attitude of dependence He longed for in all His disciples. He wanted those who follow Him to truly recognize their need for Him. He wanted them to trust Him, rely on Him, turn to Him, listen to Him, and rest in Him. While the adults were busy evaluating what they might get out of a relationship with Jesus, these children simply enjoyed the attention and love He showed them. That is what Jesus is looking for in all of us. Do we enjoy spending time with Him? Do we look forward to the attention He wants to show us? The Kingdom of God will not be made up of arrogant, egotistical, self-centered, self-reliant individuals. The self-made man need not apply. But the helpless, hopeless, innocent, defenseless, weak, and willing will always be welcome. A big part of coming to faith in Christ is giving up all faith in yourself. It is recognizing your own insufficiencies and trusting in His all-sufficiency instead. I can't help but think about the words of Paul when I read these passages. "Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world's eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God" (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT). The unwise, the powerless, the poor, the foolish, the despised – these are the ones that God calls and Christ redeems. These are the citizens of God's Kingdom. Totally dependent. Completely satisfied to rely on God to meet all their needs. Trusting in Jesus to provide for them what they could have never provided for themselves. Willing to rest in the arms of God, benefiting from His grace and His goodness.

Father, thank You for including me in Your Kingdom. And thank You that it wasn't based on my ability to impress You or accomplish great things for You. But when I was ready to stop trusting in me and start trusting in You, that's when You included me in Your family. And I am grateful.  Amen.

Jesus Said It, Not Me.

Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12

He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:11-12 NLT

I'll be honest. This is not my favorite topic. But if you're going to read through the Gospels and have committed to blog your thoughts on a daily basis, it was inevitable that I would have to deal with this passage. It comes straight from the lips of Jesus Himself, and so we have to deal with it – like it or not. Jesus was making His way down from the region of Galilee in the north and heading toward Judea. He ended up in the region known as Perea, just east of the Jordan. Jesus' earthly ministry is quickly coming to an end as He begins to focus His attention on Jerusalem and the coming Passover celebration, when He would be betrayed, tried, and crucified. During these final days, His enemies, the religious leaders would ramp up their efforts to expose Him as a fraud. A steady stream of Pharisees, Saduccees, and other leaders would make their way to Jesus, equipped with questions designed to trap Him and reveal that He was just a common peasant, not the Messiah.

On this occasion, they asked Him a controversial question – even for their day. It involved divorce. "Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?" they asked. There were two schools of thought at the time. One group held a more liberal view that said divorce was permissible for any reason whatsoever, at least from the male perspective. The other group were the traditionalists who held that divorce was only allowed when the other spouse had been unfaithful. As usual, these men wanted Jesus to choose a side, in order that He might alienate a portion of the crowds that were following Him. But in His typical style, Jesus does not answer their question directly. Instead of talking about divorce, He addresses the issue of marriage, because that is the real heart of the matter. People were not taking marriage seriously. They did not view it with the same intensity and holiness that God did. Instead, they treated their commitments and covenants lightly and flippantly. Divorce had become a quick and easy way to nullify a God-sanctioned covenant, with little or no regret or remorse. Women were treated like property. If a man tired of his wife, he could simply divorce her. He could hand her a piece of paper and send her packing. No stigma involved. No guilt necessary. But Jesus reminds them that marriage was God's idea, not man's. It was a God-ordained institution that was based on a concept of unity and oneness. "This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together" (Matthew 19:5-6 NLT). Ah, there's the key phrase: "what God has joined together." From Jesus' point of view, marriage was a work of God. God made man as male and female, and He intended for them to be joined together as a single unit. Those two individuals were to become a single unit comprised of two united souls. And NO ONE was to split them apart for any reason. That was God's original intention.

But the Pharisees brought up a problem passage found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This involved instructions from Moses to the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. He had seemingly given them the right to divorce their wives by simply handing them a "written notice of divorce." Moses wrote, "Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes her a letter of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house" (Deuteronomy 24:1 NLT). If you look closely, Moses is NOT justifying or sanctioning divorce. He is not providing an outlet from marriage by suggesting that all that is required is a piece of paper. And Jesus makes the meaning of this passage clear when He says, "Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended" (Matthew 19:8 NLT). Moses was dealing with a predominantly pagan people who had spent their entire lives growing up in the confines of Egypt. They had adapted themselves to the Egyptian culture and had adopted their false gods. Much of Moses' time was spent attempting to get these people to understand the ways of Yahweh, their true God. Men were treating marriage flippantly, divorcing their wives at the drop of a hat, simply because they didn't please them. They were free to find anything wrong with their wives. It had become ridiculous. The idea of oneness and unity had been forsaken altogether. Moses knew there was no stopping these people, so he tried to get them to understand the gravity of their decision. In the next three verses, he tells them the ramifications for their choosing to divorce their wives. As soon as a man handed his wife her walking papers, she was free to marry another man. If that man tired of her or found fault with her and divorced her, the first husband was not free to take her back. That door was closed to him. The same was true even if her second husband died. Moses wanted them to understand that divorce was final. He uses a very strong term to make his point. He tells them that "the first husband may not marry her again, for she has been defiled" (Deuteronomy 24:4 NLT). The word he uses meant "to become impure or unclean." Once the decision was made to divorce, there was no going back. This is not a passage that is commending or sanctioning divorce. It is illustrating its devastating repercussions. Moses closes his statement on the subject by saying, "That would be detestable to the Lord. You must not bring guilt upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as a special possession" (Deuteronomy 24:4 NLT).

Back to Jesus. He closes His remarks by saying, "And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery – unless his wife has been unfaithful" (Matthew 19:9 NLT). Mark adds, "And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery" (Mark 10:12 NLT). These were powerful, shocking words coming from the lips of Jesus. There were people standing in the crowd that day who had been through divorce, including some of the religious leaders, more than likely. It was a common practice because it had become so easy to do. Jesus, like Moses, is trying to remind them of the sanctity and holiness of marriage. It is not something to enter into lightly. Even the disciples get that point, because they respond, "If this is the case, it is better not to marry!" (Matthew 19:10 NLT). In other words, if you can't divorce your wife for any reason without being guilty of adultery, then why get married at all? You can hear in their statement just how easy divorce had become and just how difficult they viewed marriage to be. The truth is, marriage is difficult. God is bringing together two individuals with two sin natures and asking them to spend the rest of their lives together. He is asking them to love one another unconditionally. He is demanding that they sacrifice their rights for the good of the other – regardless of each others' fault and failings. In any marriage, there will always be plenty of things not to like about the other person. Husbands and wives tend to irritate, disappoint, anger, and even embarrass one another. Finding fault in one another is not a problem. Remaining faithful and committed to loving one another through it all is a problem. And only God can make it possible. God never said marriage would be easy. He never promised it would be a bed of roses. The miracle of marriage is that God takes two extremely selfish, self-centered, sinful people and molds them into a single unit. He makes two into one. Bad math, but great theology. Only God can do that kind of math.

I know there are those reading this blog who have been through divorce. In no way do I want to heap guilt on you. That is not my intent. God is forgiving and gracious. He allows new beginnings. He is a God of grace, not guilt. But it is important that we all deal with the holiness of marriage. We must recognize that divorce grieves God. It was never His intent. Divorce is a vivid illustration of the hardness of man's heart and the devastating presence of sin in our lives. Those who have been through divorce and don't recognize that reality, run the very real risk of repeating their mistake all over again. The real issue here is marriage, not divorce. If you have been divorced and are now remarried to a wonderful individual, will you make that new marriage a godly marriage? Will you view it through His eyes and not the world's? Will you remain committed to that new spouse regardless of any and all circumstances? Will you forgive regularly, love unconditionally, sacrifice willingly, die to self daily, and commit to one another permanently? Will you agree with Jesus that the two of you are no longer two, but one, and that you will not allow anyone or anything to split apart what God has joined together?

Father, we talk more about divorce than we do about marriage. We don't understand or appreciate just how precious marriage is to You. We treat it flippantly and frivolously. We enter into marriage lightly, not weighing the commitment it requires. We don't value the covenant it requires and the holiness it should represent. We forget that You invented it and that You highly regard it. Give us a new view on marriage. Help us to see it through Your eyes and to value it the way You do.  Amen.

A Just Judge.

Luke 18:1-14

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don't you think God will give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” – Luke 18:6-7 NLT

Jesus taught a great deal by using comparisons. The parable of the prodigal son was really a comparison between two sons. The parable of the rich man and the poor man in chapter 16 was a comparison. And here Jesus uses the same teaching technique to drive home a message regarding God. He tells a story about a judge “who neither feared God nor cared about people” (Luke 18:2 NLT). This man was in a position of power and authority. His job was to render justice. He was to settle disputes and help determine the proper and just decision in all cases, equitably and without prejudice. There was a widow who had a dispute with her enemy. She repeatedly brought her problem before the judge, asking for him to give her justice. She was presenting the facts of her case and desiring this judge to render a just judgment. Finally, the judge decided to see that she received justice. NOT because he was just and fair, but “because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!” (Luke 18:5 NLT). While Luke prefaces this story with the qualifier, “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up” (Luke 18:1 NLT), the lesson is less about persistence than it is about expectations. In other words, we should not walk away from this story thinking that we can have whatever we want as long as we badger God enough for it. We can't get God to give us whatever we want just by persistently asking for it. This woman's need was justice. As a widow and a woman, she had little to no power or authority in that culture. She was helpless and hopeless. Her only source of justice was the judge. So she went to him regularly and persistently because he was her only hope.

Jesus makes the lesson of this story very clear. He says, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge.” In other words, Jesus doesn't make the woman the point of the lesson, but the judge. Jesus says, “Even he rendered a just decision in the end.” This judge, who had no respect for God and cared little for people, rendered a just verdict in the end. Why? Because the widow persistently brought her need for justice to him. She was literally driving him crazy with her repeated requests. So, Jesus says, don't you think God will see that justice is done for His own people who cry out to Him day and night? The comparison Jesus seems to be making is between the judge and God – between an earthly, flawed judge and a heavenly, compassionate, completely righteous and just Judge. Interestingly, Jesus says, God will grantjustice quickly. The judge in the story ignored the widow's request for a time, and put her off. But God, the just judge, will not do that. He will respond quickly and justly. God won't put them off. He won't delay out of indifference. He will hear and He will act. So we are to come to Him – in faith. We are to believe that He hears us and that He will respond to us. His answer may not come in the form we expect or at the exact time we want it to come. But He will render judgment, quickly and justly. So when we need a just decision to be made, we are to pray faithfully, expectantly and persistently – until God answers.

Jesus then tells another story that seems to be addressed to the Pharisees again – to those “who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else” (Luke 18:9 NLT). Again, Jesus uses comparison, by contrasting a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both men are portrayed praying in the Temple. But the Pharisee's prayer is self-focused and self-righteous. He views himself as better than anyone else. “I thank you God that I am not a sinner like everyone else” (Luke 18:11 NLT). He then proceeds to tell God all about his character. Notice that he gives a list of all the things he doesn't do and all the things he does do. His is a behavior-based righteousness. But the tax collector takes a different approach. He is humble, penitent, and only refers to himself as a sinner in need of mercy. Jesus makes a powerful point from this story. He says, “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 NLT). I believe Jesus told these two stories at the same time for a reason. Each involve prayer or petition. They include someone with a request or need and someone being addressed with that need. But notice that the Pharisee has no request. He needs nothing from God, except His admiration and respect. Ultimately, he wants God's blessing, but only because he believes he deserves it. The tax collector needs mercy. He recognizes his sinful state and only comes to God for one thing: His mercy and forgiveness. He knows he is undeserving. So he humbly approaches God and asks Him to extend mercy. The real issue in both stories seems to involve a recognition of need. The widow needed justice. She recognized her helplessness and went to the one person who could help. The tax collector needed mercy, so he went to the only One who could give it. And Jesus said this man went home justified before God. In other words, God viewed him as righteous, because he had recognized his own sinfulness and need, and turned to God for help.

Why do you turn to God? What is it you want from Him? Are you asking Him to bless your decisions and rubber stamp your will? Or do you come to Him in need, recognizing your own helplessness and hopelessness? Do you believe God owes you something because of all you do for Him? Or do you realize that all your righteous deeds are as filthy rags in His sight and humbly rely on His mercy in spite of your undeservedness? God renders justice. He judges fairly and faithfully. He is impartial and always decides rightly and righteously. Trust Him. Turn to Him. Pray to Him. He will answer, and He will answer justly.

Father, too often my prayers are all about me. I come with all my needs, requests, and demands. I have a list of what I want and need, and I simply expect you to give me the answers I want. But Lord, You fulfill Your own will, not mine. You render just judgments, not answer unjust prayers. Show me how to bring my needs to You and then allow You to do the right and just thing, regardless of what I think is best. I can trust You to judge fairly and equitably – every time.  Amen.