Divine Dependence.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. – Matthew 6:13 ESV Matthew 6:9-13

As Jesus wraps up His model prayer, He closes with what appears to be a somewhat strange petition. At first glance, it would appear that He is suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us. But that would be a direct contradiction of the assertion of James: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). But then Paul seems to muddy the waters when he writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV). In all three of these passages, the Greek word used for temptation is peirasmos and it means “trial” or “testing.” It can refer to an internal temptation to sin or to trials that test the character. So what exactly is Jesus suggesting we pray? It would seem, based on the context of the whole prayer, that Jesus is promoting the idea that the believer recognize his or her complete dependence upon God. We live in a world that is hostile to us as His followers. Jesus told His disciples, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22 ESV). He also warned them, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19 ESV). Not only do we have a hostile world to contend with, we have the prince of this world, Satan, as our mortal enemy. On top of that, we have to deal with our own sin natures. But Jesus seems to be indicating that a believer is one who acknowledges that his life is ultimately in the hands of God. It is God who leads, guides and protects His children. But that does not mean that all of life will be trouble-free and devoid of difficulty. Jesus Himself has warned us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). Life on this earth can be harsh and extremely difficult at times, especially for followers of Christ. This world is not user-friendly for those who are members of the family of God. But as God leads us, we must realize that He loves us and will not lead us so that we might sin. Yes, we may end up sinning, but that will be as a result of an internal, heart issue, not God. All of this reminds me of the well-known 23rd Psalm. In it, David speaks of God, comparing Him to a loving shepherd. “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:2-4 ESV). Notice that David acknowledges the leadership of God in his life. He speaks of God leading him beside still waters and into paths of righteousness. But also notice that David describes himself walking through the valley of the shadow of death. In other words, being lead by God is not always a walk in the park. Yet, we can walk without fear, because we know He is with us, guiding us, protecting us and providing comfort along the way.

In a way, Jesus seems to be trying to get us to recognize that God is always with us. He wants us to know that our lives are in His hands. And to pray, “lead us not into temptation” is to ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. As we walk through life, we must remain dependent upon Him for every step we take. We must rely on Him to “deliver us from evil,” which is why Paul said that God is the one who “will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The apostle John gives us these encouraging words: “We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them” (1 John 5:18 NLT). As believers, we must realize that we are dependent upon God for everything. We need Him to guide and direct us. We need Him to protect us. We need His help to keep us from allowing the tests and trials of life to result in sin rather than our sanctification. Because we know that God loves us, we can rest assured that He will give us more than we can handle. We never walk alone. He is always there. Whatever we face, we do so with Him at our side and completely on our side. So with the psalmist we can say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6 ESV).

Food and Forgiveness.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:11-12 ESV

Prayer, at its most basic form, is communication with God. It is the child of God speaking with and listening to his Father. There should be a certain degree of intimacy and expectancy in our conversations with God. As Jesus shows us in the model prayer He shared with His disciples, our prayers should begin with an acknowledgement of God's holiness and transcendency, but also a realization of our personal relationship with Him as His children. Because He is our Father, we can come to Him boldly, knowing that He loves us. But we must also come respectfully and submissively, never forgetting that He is God and always ready to subject our will to His. It is this recognition of God as both our creator and Father that prompts us to willingly submit to His rule and reign over our lives. And while we are perfectly free and repeatedly encouraged to bring our requests before Him, we must always do so with a readiness to accept what He deems best. In Jesus' prayer, He seems to teach us to ask God for the basics – “give us this day our daily bread.” This isn't a request for a life of poverty or bare subsistence. It is an expression of dependence upon God for those things that will sustain us in life. Thomas L. Constable, in his commentary on Matthew, writes, “Daily bread refers to the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition). When we ask God for our “daily bread,” we our admitting our dependency upon Him. Rather than in prideful self-sufficiency, we admit our reliance upon Him as our creator, sustainer, provider and loving Father. This attitude in prayer expresses a degree of contentment in and satisfaction with what God provides. Paul told Timothy, “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8 NLT). Sometimes our constant requests of God for more reveal that we really seek satisfaction and contentment in things rather than Him.

But there is another necessity that Jesus would have us recognize. Not only do we need God to provide us our daily needs, we need His constant forgiveness. This particular part of Jesus' prayer has caused some great confusion and consternation. After all, weren't all our sins forgiven by His death on the cross? If so, why must we constantly ask God to forgive us our sins? It is important that we understand that our sins have been forgiven – in full, past present and future. We stand before God as righteous because of the death of Christ on the cross. But we know from experience that we still sin. We have sin natures and a built-in propensity to sin against God. And sin, as it always has done, creates a barrier between us and God. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with our salvation. That has been taken care of by Jesus. The forgiveness He is telling us to seek has to do with restoring fellowship with God. The word translated “debts” refers to our sins, not our financial obligations to God. Each and every day of our lives, we sin against God. We rebel against His rule and reign over our lives. We lie, deceive, exhibit pride and prejudice, hurt others, fail to love, act selfishly, lust, covet, and refuse to obey His commands. Our confession of those sins brings forgiveness. In asking for forgiveness, we are recognizing the amazing reality that God WILL do just that – forgive us. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). An admission of our sins and a willing confession of them to God restores our fellowship with Him. And fellowship with our Father should mean more to us than anything else.

But there is more. Jesus adds an interesting twist to His model prayer. He says, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 ESV). This is not teaching us that our forgiveness from God is somehow tied to our forgiveness of others. It is telling us that forgiveness should be so important to us that we are willing to extend it even to those who sin against us. To refuse to forgive others is to show an open disregard for the forgiveness of God. That is why, after Jesus finishes giving His model prayer, He adds, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV). To refuse to forgive others is sin. It is against the will of God for His children. Dr. Constable adds, “These verses explain the thought of the fifth petition more fully. Repetition stresses the importance of forgiving one another if we want God’s forgiveness. Our horizontal relationships with other people must be correct before our vertical relationship with God can be” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition).

Just prior to giving His model prayer, Jesus has taught, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV). There is a point at which our personal relationships can hinder our relationship with our heavenly Father. He has called us to love one another. Our desire for forgiveness from Him and restored fellowship with Him should drive us to maintain our fellowship with one another. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11 ESV). Food and forgiveness – two basic needs we all share.and two necessities we should all desire.

Reordered Priorities.

Give us this day our daily bread. – Matthew 6:11 ESV Matthew 6:9-13

What is it you really need? When you go to God in prayer, what is it that you typically ask Him for? Obviously, it is perfectly okay to make requests of God. In fact, we are encouraged to do so in Scripture. Paul writes, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 ESV). John makes a similar statement when he writes, “we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him” ( 1 John 3:22 ESV). Of course, John adds an important caveat that we tend to overlook. He makes it clear that the answers to our prayers are tied to God's will. He qualifies the promise of answered prayer with an acknowledgement that it hinges on our understanding of and relationship with God – “whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:22 ESV). A little later on in his letter, John makes this relationship between our knowledge of God and our answered prayers even more clear. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15 ESV).

When Jesus provided His disciples (and us) with His model prayer, He purposely began it with an acknowledgment of God's holiness, sovereignty, and kingship. He is God, but He is also our Father. Because He is our King and our adopted Father, our desire should be for His righteous rule and reign in all things, including our lives. We should desire what He desires. We should want what He wants. His rule should directly impact our requests. His will should alter our wants. If we truly believe He is righteous, holy, just and fully in control as our King and loving Father, we will trust Him to provide for and protect us. Which is why Jesus transitions His prayer from asking that God's will be done to a humble request for daily bread. It is well within God's will to ask for our daily needs. But sometimes we confuse wants with needs. We get our will confused with His. But Jesus would have us remember that God's will is always best. God always wants what is best for us. And when we start to think that the things of this world are what really bring us joy, peace, fulfillment and contentment, we miss the point. Which is why Paul told Timothy, “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8 ESV). Paul spoke from experience. He had learned to trust God for his needs. He had learned the secret of contentment. “for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT).

When we begin our prayers with an acknowledgment of God's holiness, a self-reminder of our adoption as His children, an expression of desire for His kingdom and will to be done, our requests become much simpler. They become more focused on the essentials and less consumed with the peripheral issues of life. We will tend to ask God for what we need, not what we want. We will find ourselves praying for His will to be done, rather than our own. We will increasingly learn to trust God to give us exactly what we need, when we need it. So that “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8 ESV). But we will always be tempted to redefine what “food and clothing” means. Quality and quantity tend to become the measuring tools by which we define our needs. How much food? What brand of clothes? Does it include eating out three to four days a week? Just what does our “daily bread” cover? Is a house included? If so, in what neighborhood? What about cars? Income? Retirement account? Savings? It is not that any of those things are wrong. The issue is contentment and a confidence in God's will. It is trusting Him to provide us with what we really need. It is a willful concession to His divine sovereignty over our lives. Because He is our all-powerful God and our all-loving Father, we can trust Him. We can ask Him for anything, but He will ultimately give us what we need. And the more we get to know Him, the more our prayers will line up with His will and our requests will reflect His desires for us. We will want what He wants. We will desire what He does. And we will be content.

As Right As Reign.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10 ESV

What do you want more than anything in the world? What is it you dream about, worry about, obsess about, or think you just can't live without? A good way to tell what is it we really want and desire is to take inventory of our prayers. You can tell a lot about a person by examining the kinds of things they ask God for or by simply figuring out what it is that motivates them to pray in the first place. Sometimes it is a tragedy or some kind of trouble that gets us on our knees. We find ourselves in a place of difficulty and suddenly we find the time and the motivation to take our problem to God. What we want is peace. We want deliverance from our trouble. We want God to do something to get things back to "normal," whatever that is. There are other times when our desires are even more transparent. We come to God asking for good health, protection for our children, peace in the world, direction for life, healing for a friend, a promotion, a better marriage, or even the motivation to grow spiritually. But in Jesus' model prayer, He would have us remember that there is something far more important than all of these things. In fact, it is essential to understanding where everything else fits in on the priority scale of life. Remember, Jesus said, "Pray then like this…" He wants us to use His prayer as an outline for making our requests made known to God, and one of the first things He encourages us to do is to ask for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done – "on earth as it is in heaven." So before we begin making our will made known to God, we should desire that His will be done – in the world and in our lives.

The kingdom of God. The will of God. These two things have to do with rule and reign, power and authority, sovereignty and dominion. As the people of God, we should desire these things. We should want them more than anything else. Why? Because His kingdom is righteous, good, loving, just, and holy. In the same way, His will is perfect, good, righteous, holy and just. We should want what God wants. We should desire that God rule and reign in us and over us. Paul tells us, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2 ESV). Life in this world has polluted our minds, causing us to desire those things that, in the end, lead us away from God, not to Him. We need our minds renewed, our desires refocused – on God and His will. Later on in this same chapter in Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV). In other words, we are not to get wrapped up in and obsessed with the things of this world. Instead, we are to have a kingdom mindset. We are to see our lives as part of the greater kingdom of God. And when we find ourselves too wrapped up in the things of this world, worrying about what we're going to eat or wear, Jesus gives us the antidote: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33 ESV). We are to make the rule and reign of God our highest priority. We are to desire His righteousness, His will, His dominion over all things – including our very lives. Paul reminds us, "For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17 ESV). In his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, he told them to "live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory" (1 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT).

When we come to God in prayer, we should do so with a desire to see His righteous reign lived out in us. We should want His will more than anything else. Our will takes a backseat to His, our kingdom is annexed by His, His rule reigns supreme – on this earth just like it does in heaven. Wanting the will of God is a game-changer. It impacts everything else. It should change the way we pray. It should alter our expectations and dramatically influence our petitions. When we want His rule and reign to be supreme, we will be able to focus on seeking His righteousness rather than worrying about all the stuff that sidetracks us and distracts us from what really matters. God's will is always good and acceptable and perfect. Why would we ever want anything else?

Your Kingdom Come.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Jesus gave His disciples an example of the kind of prayer they were to pray. It was to be done in humility, not for the praise of men. It was to be done privately, with an awareness that God was the primary focus. It was to be direct and to the point, not accompanied by an over-abundance of words or cleverly worded language. Prayer is not our attempt to tell God something He does not know. Jesus told His disciples, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). When we pray, we are not bringing God up to speed on all that has happened in our lives over the last 24 hours. He already knows. We aren't even informing Him of our needs. He knows those as well. So why pray? Because He has given us the privilege of coming into His presence. Because He is our loving Father and we should long to have a relationship with Him. To some degree, prayer is less about sharing information than it is about sharing our hearts. God wants to hear from us, and we should want to hear from Him. We should desire to know His heart and get His perspective on all that is happening in our lives. Prayer should be a two-way dialogue that includes both talking and listening. We are not there to tell God what to do. He is not some kind of cosmic genie who is obligated to grant us our wishes. He is the God of the universe and the creator of all things. He is sovereign, so He knows what is best and He knows what He is doing. Prayer is our opportunity to come before Him and realign our perspective, to refocus our attention on what really matters, and yes, share our personal cares and concerns.

But Jesus would have us remember something extremely important. It seems that this realignment of our perspective is essential to prayer. Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9 ESV), and the second example He provided us was “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10 ESV). When coming before our heavenly Father, we are to do so with a focus on His kingdom, not our own. The tendency is for us to try and use prayer as a form of leverage to get what we want from God. We bring our well-thought-out lists of requests, expecting Him to answer every one of them according to our wishes and on our timeline. But Jesus would encourage us to come before God with a desire to see His kingdom come, His will be done. If nothing else, this conveys an attitude of worshipful submission to and trust in God's wisdom, love, and power. Obviously, this does not mean we can't bring our requests to God. Paul strongly encourages us to do so. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:5-6 ESV). We can and should share our requests with God, but always with an attitude of humble submission to His will. We are welcome to share with Him our needs and desires, but we should do so with an expectation that He will do what is best, because He knows best. When the apostle Paul prayed for others, his desire was that they would know the will of God – “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 ESV). There is no doubt that we spend a great deal of our lives devoid of an understanding of God's will. We don't know what He is doing. We can't see what is happening behind the scenes. We have a limited perspective and are driven to conclusions by our immediate circumstances. We are also prone to focus on temporal solutions to perceived problems. If we are sick, we pray for healing. If we are in financial straits, we pray for a solution. If we're out of work, we pray for a job. But what is God's will in all of this. Why would we pray for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done? Because at the end of the day, there is something far greater going on than our individual lives and our tiny, temporary personal kingdoms. When we pray, “Your will be done,” we are acknowledging to God that we desire His will over our own. We are letting Him know that we trust His plans and submit our own to Him. So if what we ask for does not come in the form we requested or in the timing we desired, we don't panic or get angry, we rest in His will. Martin Luther put it this way: “Grant us grace to bear willingly all sorts of sickness, poverty, disgrace, suffering, and adversity and to recognize that in this your divine will is crucifying our will” (Martin Luther, Personal Prayer Book, pg 33). There is a certain sense in which prayer is where we come to grips with God's will. We bring our desires, requests, needs and aspirations to Him, but we walk away with a greater desire to see His will lived out in our lives. To pray for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done is to acknowledge or deep dependence upon Him. It is to desire His rule and reign to be evidenced in our own lives. It is to long for His will to be accomplished through our lives. When you begin your prayers that way, it will dramatically alter the manner in which you bring your requests to Him. You will hold them up to Him with loose hands. You will cling to them lightly, knowing that His will is best, and should He choose to say, “No” to your request, it is for a very good reason. And you will be okay with that.

Keep It Holy.

Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. – Matthew 6:9 ESV

When we pray, we are to do so with an awareness of just who it is we are communicating with. We are having a conversation with God, the creator of the universe. He is the transcendent, all-seeing, all-knowing God, who is holy and righteous, and the just judge of all men. The psalmist described Him in terms that signify His otherness. “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Psalm 113:4-6 ESV). After watching God's miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt, Moses had this to say: “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11 ESV). Our God stands alone in His glory, power, holiness, and nature. Paul describes Him as the one “who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion” (1 Timothy 6:16 ESV). We must never forget that our God is, first and foremost, someone who is uniquely worthy of our honor, glory, and praise. He is not to be taken lightly or treated flippantly. But here is the amazing thing. Because of Jesus Christ, we now have access to His presence and can call Him our Father. John would have us remember, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). Jesus, because of His death on the cross, has made God knowable and approachable to all who have placed their faith in Him for their salvation. He is our Father and we are His children, so we can “enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psalm 100:4 ESV). That is the incredible reality of prayer. But in giving us His model prayer, Jesus would have us remember that, as God's children, we have a responsibility to protect our Father's name. Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Hallowed be your name.” At first glance, this would seem like a silly request for anyone to pray to God. After all, God is holy all the time. Everything about God is holy, including His name. The word hallowed is not one that is common to our modern vocabulary. In the Greek it is hagiazō and it has to do with holiness or separateness. Jesus seems to be saying that we are to desire the holiness of God's name. But how do we, as His children, keep God's name holy or set apart? By the way we live our lives. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet. When we express to God our desire that His name be holy and set apart, we are really asking that His character be lived out in our own behavior. We are expressing our recognition of the fact that we are His children and His image bearers. We have His Spirit within us. We act as His ambassadors or representatives on this earth and must never forget that we carry His name with us wherever we go and bring honor or dishonor to that name by what we do and say. Our great desire should be for His name to be glorified on this earth. Again, the psalmist encourages us to “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness” (Psalm 29:2 ESV). What greater way to honor and worship the Lord than to live our lives in holiness, set apart for His use and determined to make His name famous, not infamous.

There is another aspect of this request for God's name to be hallowed. We should desire to see God work in miraculous and supernatural ways on our behalf. All throughout the book of Exodus there is a phrase that appears over and over again – “By this you shall know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 7:17 ESV). God repeatedly told Moses and the people of Israel that He was about to do something that would unequivocally prove His glory and sovereignty. By His mighty acts, the people of Israel would know that He alone was God. The plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of manna and quail in the wilderness, the pillar of fire and smoke – all of these things were proofs of God's power and presence. So when we pray that God's name be hallowed, we are asking that He reveal Himself in might and majesty in our lives and in our circumstances. We are asking for our Father to glorify His name by acting on our behalf. When God acts, people notice. When God intervenes, it gets peoples' interest.

So there is a two-fold aspect to this request. We should desire to see God's glory on display and His name honored by His ongoing action in this world. But we should also desire to see that our lives bring glory and honor to His name by the way we conduct ourselves as His children. We bear His name. We bear His image. We have His Spirit within us. May we live in such a way that His glory is revealed through us, and may we long to see His power and glory revealed all around us.

Praying Like Jesus.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” – Matthew 6:9

The Lord's Prayer. Most of us are familiar with. Many of us can easily quote it. Some may even use it as kind of a stand-in or substitute for their own prayers. But how many of us actually use it in the way Jesus probably intended it – as a model for prayer? In the Gospel of Matthew, we have recorded what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. Chapters 5-7 contain a series of teachings from the lips of Jesus that cover everything from the Beatitudes to the Golden Rule. As He sat on the mountainside, Jesus taught on a wide range of topics, dealing with anger, divorce, lust, fasting, love of enemies, judging others, and living as salt and light. This was radical stuff. And the controversial nature of what Jesus had to say did not escape his audience. Matthew records: “And when Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29 ESV).

In a lot of ways, Jesus was the antithesis of the scribes, Pharisees and other religious leaders of His day. In fact, He would constantly expose them as hypocrites, accusing them of having exterior conformity, but lacking true hearts for God. So much of what He said was a direct attack on the legalistic and outwardly moralistic example of these so-called religious leaders. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was upping the ante. He was revealing that the Kingdom of God was about much more that outward adherence to a set of rules or some form of behavior modification. It was about heart change – something that men were incapable of on their own. The Lord's Prayer lies smack dab in the middle of His sermon, tucked in with some rather harsh words regarding the hypocritical, self-centered motivation of so much of what the religious elite did in the name of spirituality. He exposed their prayer lives as little more than a poorly veiled attempt to get noticed by others. They were looking for recognition from men. They prayed to impress others, rather than to get to know God. So Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” And then He gave them a short, succinct example of what a selfless, God-centered, humble prayer looks like. And He did not provide this as a prayer to be prayed by rote. It was never meant to be a substitute for our own personal prayers. But it does give us a wonderful outline around which we can customize our conversations with our heavenly Father.

Jesus starts out His prayer with a focus of the Father. He sets the tone for prayer by reminding us that we are entering into the presence of our heavenly Father – a staggering reality that was made possible by His death, burial and resurrection. It is because Jesus gave His life that we have been made right with God. His death atoned for our sins. His sinless life made Him the perfect sacrifice – allowing Him to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. And as a result, we are now God's children. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). Paul takes it a step further. “And since we are his children, we are his heirs” (Romans 8:17 NLT). “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT). So when we come to God in prayer, we must come to grips with the astounding realization that we are God's children. He loves us. He desires to be with us. But Jesus seems to want us to understand that we must never forget that while God is our Father, He resides in heaven. There is a stark differentiation between God and man. He is spiritual in nature. He exists elsewhere, outside of time and space. He is divine and we are human. He is the great creator God of the universe. Which should make our position as His children that much more remarkable to us. We are children of God! And that designation is not shared by all mankind. While all men have been created by Him, only those who have placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior from sin can claim the unique designation as sons and daughters of God. John writes in his Gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV). So when we come to God in prayer, we must remember that He is God. Yes, He is our Father, but that intimacy should always be tempered with respect and recognition of His majesty and glory. We should also recall that our entrance into His presence is a privilege, not a right. We enter by virtue of the blood of Christ, not our own self-worth or any intrinsic value. We have been adopted by God. That should blow us away. We can come freely, gladly, boldly, expectantly, but it should always be reverently, with a unwavering recognition of God's holiness. But we'll talk more about that tomorrow.

I Am and I Will.

Exodus 5-6, Matthew 28

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.” – Exodus 6:6-8 ESV

There are two primary problems that all men share when it comes to God. First, is His very existence. Men struggle with knowing whether God actually exists or not. They doubt and debate it. Many simply deny it. But for those who come to the realization that God is real, the next problem becomes whether or not He is actually at work in our world. They believe in God, but doubt His promises and question His ability to intervene in the everyday affairs of their lives. This section of God's story, found in the book of Exodus, reveals God attempting to convince men of both His existence and His power to do what He says He will do. The Israelites had been living in Egypt for over 400 years. They had been "Egyptianized." They had grown comfortable with and close to all the gods of the land of Egypt. They had little or no relationship with the God of their ancestor, Abraham. Much of what happens in the book of Exodus is about God trying to convince His own people of His presence and power. They had to be convinced that He was the one true God and that He had the power to fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

What does this passage reveal about God?

He is the great "I Am." He is Yahweh, the singular and solitary God of the universe. There are no other gods beside Him. He alone is God. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is not only the creator of the universe and all it contains, He maintains complete control over everything in it. But the Israelites didn't know all of this at the time. They viewed God as just another diety in a long line of gods. Pharaoah had no concept of Moses' God and stated, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go" (Exodus 5:2 ESV). He refused to listen to Moses and Aaron, and instead, upped the pressure on the people of Israel, increasing their labor even more. Pharaoh had his gods and had no use for or fear of the god of the Jews. Even Moses had second thoughts about God. He knew He existed because he had had a personal encounter with Him at the burning bush. But after being confronted by his own people and blamed for their worsening circumstances, Moses began to question God's plan and doubt His power. "O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me?  For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all" (Exodus 5:22-23 ESV).

But God had a purpose behind all of this. He knew what He was doing. He told Moses, "I Am and I will." He wanted Moses and the people to be certain of His presence and fully aware of His power. And He was going to choose to do it through His dealings with the Egyptians. And His objective? "…you shall know that I am the Lord your God!" All throughout the book of Exodus, you will see this phrase repeated. When all was said and done, the Israelites AND the Egyptians were going to know that God is God. He is the only true God. He not only IS, He DOES. He not only exists, He is the self-existent one. He has no beginning or end. He is not limited by space or time. He is everywhere at once, and is able to see all that is going on in all places at all times. Our greatest need is to recognize His presence and to trust in His power. He is still the great I Am and He will do what He has promised to do in our lives just as He did for Moses and the people of Israel.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man is prone to doubt God's existence. Even when we believe He exists, we tend to doubt His presence in and around our lives. Our inability to see Him makes us question His reality. The presence of problems in our lives makes us doubt His power over our lives. Moses had had a personal encounter with God. He had spoken directly with Him. And yet, when things God tough, he began to doubt and question God. The people of Israel found themselves facing mounting pressure and personal discomfort at the hands of the Egyptians, so they reacted in anger and distrust. They blamed Moses and doubted God. "…they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery" (Exodus 6:9 ESV). Their view of God was limited by their circumstances. They allowed the size of their God to be limited by the size of their problem. But God said, "I Am and I will." Their doubt did not diminish God's capacity to perform. Their doubt did not make God any less powerful or capable. He was God and He would act. He had promised and He would fulfill that promise. He had seen and heard and He would respond. And while to Moses it may have appeared that God had been inactive, he would find that nothing could have been further from the truth.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I rarely doubt God's existence. I simply doubt His presence. I know He's there. I just sometimes wonder if He is here. That God is in heaven, sitting on His throne is a comfortable concept for me. But to recognize that He is present in the everyday affairs of my life is a bit harder for me to comprehend and believe. I tend to judge the presence of God based on my circumstances. When all is going well, He is obviously there. But let anything go wrong in my life, and I can begin to question His existence or at least His willingness to intervene. I need to see God as the great I Am, who will. He is real and He is intimately aware of my circumstance and fully capable of doing all that He has promised to do in my life – regardless of what I may see going on around me. His apparent inaction is nothing more than my inability to see Him at work behind the scenes. Moses did not know the intimate details of God's plan, neither do I. I can't see what He is doing behind the scenes. So I must take God at His word and trust His character more than I trust what my eyes can see.

In the closing chapter of the book of Matthew, we see the disciples grieving over the loss of their Messiah. He is dead. Their hopes are shattered. Their dreams have been dashed. The women went to the tomb to anoint His body, but encountered an angel who told them, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where helay" (Matthew 28:5-6 ESV). Once again, God had done what He had said He would do. Jesus had told His disciples that He would have to suffer and die, but that He would rise again on the third day. And He had.

"I AM and I will."

God had done the improbably and the impossible. He had provided salvation for man through the death of His own Son. He had satisfied His own just requirement for the payment of mankind's sins with the life of His own Son. Jesus Himself had claimed to be the great I Am. He had said He was going to die, but also promised to rise again. And He did. He was the Son of God and He did what He said He would do. Our greatest need is to recognize God's existence in our lives and His power to do all that He has promised to do. He is STILL the great I AM and He WILL do what He has said He will do.

Father, forgive me for doubting You. Forgive me for not seeing Your handiwork all around my life all throughout the years of my life. You have been there. You have been acting behind the scenes in so many ways. You have been there time and time again, but I still tend to doubt. I still tend to question Your presence and Your power. Give me the ability to trust You more. Help me to focus on the reality of You rather than the circumstances that surround me. Amen.

The Deliverance of God.

Exodus 3-4, Matthew 27

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings,and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” – Exodus 3:7-8 ESV

Slavery, abuse, hopelessness, powerlessness. Sound familiar? It should if you are a believer in Christ. The state of the people of Israel living in the land of Egypt was similar to that of every individual prior to their salvation experience. Living in slavery to sin and under the control of the enemy, they were helpless and hopeless to do anything about their condition. But God saw the plight of man and provided a deliverer. He recognized their hopeless condition and determined to do something about it. God did what man could not do. He provided a way of escape and a means of deliverance that was beyond the realm of human imagination, and not bound by the limits of human power.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is in the delivery business. He delivered Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees. He delivered Jacob back from Paddan-aram where he had fled to escape the anger of his brother, Esau. He delivered Joseph from the confines of the prison and placed him in the palace. He delivered Jacob and his family from the famine and relocated them into the land of Egypt. He delivered Moses from living as a fugitive in Midian to becoming the divinely-appointed leader who would deliver the people of Israel from the oppressive conditions in Egypt, and lead them to the land God had promised to Abraham generations earlier. God delivers because man can't. Without God's call, Abraham would have remained right where he was. Without God's assurances and blessing, Jacob would never have risked a reunion with his brother. Without God's supernatural, providential leading, Joseph would have never ended up a slave in Egypt, let alone that nation's second-most-powerful leader. Without God's intervention, Moses would have remained content to live out his days as a shepherd of sheep, rather than a shepherd of the people of God. And without God's clearly articulated plan of salvation, the people of Israel would have found themselves living as slaves in a foreign land rather than free men enjoying the blessings of the Promised Land.

Ultimately, the story of Exodus is simply a picture of a much greater story of redemption and freedom. It foreshadows a much more important and long-lasting deliverance to come – the one we find recorded in the gospel of Matthew. Here we have the story of yet another shepherd who came to provide release and rest for the sheep of God. But this shepherd happened to be the very Son of God. He was delivered up so that we might be delivered out of our slavery to sin and death. He died so that we might have life. He made our freedom possible by paying the ransom required. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time" (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NLT). Jesus described Himself by saying, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11 ESV). He willingly sacrificed His life in order to deliver us from slavery to sin and provide us with a freedom that includes the rights and privileges of sons and daughters of God Himself. "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1 ESV). God has provided deliverance through His Son, Jesus Christ. He has provided freedom from sin and death. He has provided a restored relationship with Himself. And He will one day deliver us into His very presence where we will enjoy freedom from sin and the pleasure of His company forever.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man needs a deliverer, and human beings – apart from God's help – always make lousy deliverers. If left to our own devices, we have a tendency to screw up even the basic freedoms we enjoy. The Jews of Jesus day, while living under the heavy hand of Rome, still viewed themselves as free men. They refused to acknowledge the Roman government or submit to their authority over their lives. And while they still longed for a deliver, they had become content with their lot in life and grown complacent about the reality of their circumstances. Like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water, they were oblivious to the danger of their predicament and refused to see God's hand-picked solution to their problem. The Messiah was standing right in front of them and all they could say was, "Let him be crucified!" (Matthew 27:23 ESV). And ever since, countless men and women have continued to refuse God's chosen deliverer and perfect plan of salvation.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God's plan didn't make a whole lot of sense to Moses. He even argued with God about it, coming up with all kinds of excuses why it wouldn't work. But God's plan didn't need Moses' approval. Moses didn't have to like it or agree with it. He simply had to obey it and trust that God knew what He was doing. That God would choose Moses as His designated deliverer made was as ridiculous to Moses as it would prove to be to the people of Israel. That God could make one of the most powerful men on the face of the earth to willingly set free his substantial, non-paid workforce was a lot for anyone to swallow. None of this was logical. Because it was supernatural. It was going to be a God-thing. The ways of God rarely make sense to us as human beings. Reason has to take a back seat at times when God is at work. Common sense rarely fares well when attempting to explain the uncommon and inexplicable activities of God. That God's plan for Jesus included His death made no sense to Peter. That a suffering Savior was just as important to God's plan of redemption as a conquering Christ was difficult for the disciples to comprehend. But God always delivers on His terms, not ours. His salvation is of divine origin, not earthly. The words on the sign that hung above Jesus' head on the cross, while meant to note His crime, were actually a statement of fact. "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews" (Matthew 27:37 ESV). That is exactly who Jesus was and still is. He was their deliver and He was also their sin substitute, taking on the punishment they deserved and offering them a means by which they might enjoy freedom from sin, a right relationship with God, and an eternity in His presence. The freedom Moses provided for the people of Israel would prove to be short lived. It would only be a matter of generations before they found themselves in slavery again, living in a distant land and serving a foreign people. But the freedom Christ offers is of a permanent nature. "So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free" (John 8:36 NLT).

Father, You have provided a means by which I can enjoy freedom from sin and the condemnation of death. It is hard to explain, difficult to understand, but completely free for the taking. Thank You for sending Your Son as my deliverer. Thank You for setting me free and transforming me from a slave to Your son. Amen.

Ignorant of His Ways.

Exodus 1-2, Matthew 26

Years passed, and the king of Egypt died. But the Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act. – Exodus 2:23-25 ESV

The story continues. And while Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph had all disappeared from the scene, God raised up a new cast of characters to carry on the divine story line. It is impossible to read this narrative and not be blown away at how significant each and every event was and how vital they were to the ultimate outcome. The descendants of Jacob, 70 in number when they arrived in Egypt, had become incredibly fruitful and "they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them" (Exodus 1:7 ESV). There was a new Pharaoh who had come to power, who had no recollection of Joseph and, therefore, no compassion on the Jews. Out of fear, he treated the Jews as slaves, setting "task masters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens" (Exodus 1:11 ESV). He even instituted a plan that included infanticide in order to deal with the rapid increase in the numbers of Jews. And yet this incredibly repulsive act would result in the a baby boy being raised in the household of the Pharaoh himself. And this boy, who would be educated as an Egyptian, would never forget his heritage, and at the age of 40, would find himself attempting to rescue his own people in his own strength and according to his own plan. His actions, while well-meaning, would result in his exile to Midian where he would find a wife and begin a new life.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But God was not done with Moses. This entire story reveals the sovereign hand of God over every detail and each individual. The fruitfulness of the people of Israel was not just a coincidence. It was in fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation. But it is fascinating to consider how God chose to fulfill His promise. He had caused a famine that had forced Jacob and his family to seek help in Egypt. He had also arranged for Joseph, one of Jacob's own sons, to be sold into slavery years earlier and become second in command in Egypt. God was behind the rise of a new Pharaoh to the throne over Egypt. At every point in the story, we can see God at work. There is no point at which He is out of control or up in heaven wringing His hands in dismay or surprise at what is taking place back on earth. He was aware of Pharaoh's plan to eliminate the Jewish baby boys. He was fully up to speed on the abusive conditions under which the Jews were having to live. "God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew" (Exodus 2:24 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man can be both arrogant and ignorant. Pharaoh, drunk with his own power and fearful of losing it because of a rapidly growing Jewish population, instituted a pogrom designed to eliminate the "problem." But he was ignorant of what God was doing behind the scenes. He thought he was in control, but he was wrong He believed he knew what was best, but his efforts only made matters worse. Whenever we act out of fear rather than faith, the results are rarely good. When Moses' mother placed him in that wicker basket and set him afloat on the Nile, she was having to trust God with his life. She was acting in faith. The write of Hebrews tells us, "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict" (Hebrews 11:23 ESV). She had no idea what the results would be. But God knew. The amazing thing is that God not only protected the baby's life, He miraculously arranged for him to be discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh, the man who had decreed that he be put to death. And then God orchestrated events in such a way that Moses' mother would be allowed to raise him, being paid for the privilege by Pharaoh's daughter.

We are all ignorant of the ways of God. We can't see what He sees. We don't know what He knows. But we can know Him. We can learn about His character and grow in our understanding of it. That is what these stories are for. Through them, we learn of His faithfulness, love, power, mercy, grace, and sovereignty. Even Moses had learned of God's promise to Abraham and even after four decades of life as an Egyptian, he wanted to do something to help his own people. Again, the writer of Hebrews tells us, "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:24-25 ESV). The problem was that Moses would try to take matters into his own hands, killing an Egyptian who was abusing a Jew. His actions would result in a warrant for his arrest and his exile to the land of Midian. Moses was arrogant enough to think he knew what was best. But he was ignorant of God's ways. He was ignorant of God's plan for his life and for the people of Israel.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In spite of the fact that I have the end of the story revealed to me through God's Word, and that I can go back and read about God's complete plan in all its detail, I can still be so ignorant when it comes to the ways of God. I can find myself reacting as Peter did when Jesus told him he would end up denying and deserting Him. Peter arrogantly proclaimed, "Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you" (Matthew 26:33 ESV). Peter even claimed a willingness to die for and with Jesus. But he was ignorant. He didn't know what he was talking about. He didn't know God's plan. Even Judas, driven by his love of money, had no idea what the results of his decision to betray Jesus would be. Perhaps he hoped that his actions would force Jesus to reveal His hand and establish His kingdom once and for all. Or maybe he had simply lost hope in the fact that Jesus really was the long-awaited Messiah, and he was just trying to make the most out of what had become a hopeless situation. Judas was both arrogant and ignorant. Peter was both arrogant and ignorant. The high priest who accused Jesus of blasphemy was both arrogant and ignorant. He was unable to see that the one who stood before him was the Son of God and the Savior for whom they had long been waiting. God rarely shows up in the way we would expect Him to. He seldom does things the way we would want Him to. His plan for Jesus' life was not what the disciples wanted or expected. His mission for the Messiah was not what the religious leaders of the Jews had anticipated. God does the unexpected. His ways are not our ways. His plan for the redemption of the Jews was not what Abraham would have expected. It was not how Moses would have done it. And God's plan for the redemption of all mankind was not how I would have done it. God's ways are not my ways. I must learn to trust Him. I must learn to lean on Him. He knows what He is doing, whether I can see it or not – whether I believe it or not.

Father, help me to trust You more. Help me to recognize Your hand in and around all the events and affairs of my life. I don't want to live in arrogance and ignorance, thinking I know what is best and oblivious to what You are doing to accomplish Your will for my life. May I grow increasingly more aware of just how actively You are involved in my life. 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.

Doubting Disciples.

Matthew 28

…but some were doubtful - Vs 17 (NASB)

Jesus has risen from the dead! The guards assigned to prevent anything from happening to the body and who worked for the High Priest are literally scared stiff. The women arrive at the tomb only to find it empty. An angel gives them orders to tell the disciples what has happened and to tell them the no-longer-dead Jesus is going to meet them in Galilee. As they run to tell the disciples the great news, Jesus Himself meets them and reminds them exactly what it is they are to do. Then when Jesus appears to His disciples – alive and well – Luke says, "some were doubtful."

That blows my mind! How could they be doubtful? He had told them this was going to happen. They refused to believe it, but on more than one occasion Jesus had clearly said that He would be killed, but that He would rise again three days later. Now it had happened! These guys had watched Him die. Now He stood before them alive! But some doubted. Sure, Luke also says that some worshiped Him, but it's hard to look past the fact that some were doubtful. The living Lord stood right before their eyes and they were doubtful. The Greek word for doubtful is distazo and it comes from the word dis, which means "twice." They were literally wavering between two opinions. They wanted to believe that what they were seeing was true, but their common sense told them it was too good to be true. They were having difficulty reasoning this all out in their minds. Their senses were in conflict. It was a classic battle between faith and reason. And it is still going on today.

I have to ask myself which group I would have been in that day – the worshipers or the doubters? When Luke says that some worshiped, he uses a word that conveys the idea of falling upon your knees and touching the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence. It's exactly what the women did when they encountered Jesus along the road in verse 9: "And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him." They were overcome with fear and joy. They recognized that they were in the presence of the Son of God and reacted accordingly. The disciples did the same thing when they saw Jesus – at least some of them. The others stood by doubting, wavering, and debating in their minds what exactly it was they were witnessing. Did they think they were seeing a ghost? Was this all a dream? Had Jesus not really died? It's interesting that Mark records in his gospel that when the women first told the disciples that they had seen Jesus alive, "they refused to believe it" (Mark 16:11). Why? Because it was unbelievable! The impossible had just happened. Now that they were standing in front of Jesus themselves, they went from disbelief to doubt. It was hard to deny that something had happened, but they just weren't sure what it was.

And many of us are still doubting today. At one time we were disbelieving. We denied the reality of Jesus and the need for Him to be our Savior. But then we placed our faith in Him and become Christ-followers. But at some point, doubt set in. We have seen Him work in and around our lives, but we waver and doubt in our minds whether it was really Him. We face struggles and trials and know we should turn to Him, but we doubt that He can really help. We allow our minds to overwhelm our faith. We let reason convince us that He isn't real or, at least, He isn't reliable. So we doubt. He is standing right in front of us, alive and well, with all the resurrection power He had that day He walked out of the grave, but we stand on the edge wavering in our belief. We are His doubting disciples. And if we are doubting Him, it is impossible to truly worship Him. You can't truly worship and waver at the same time. He is risen. He is alive. He is exactly Who He said He was. The Son of God and the Savior of the world. The cure for wavering is worship. Quit standing around doubting and debating. Get on your knees and acknowledge Him for Who He is.

Father, Your Son is alive and I want to be one of the worshipers, not the the waverers. I want to be the one who is on my knees in reverence and awe, not standing around wondering if all this is really true. Forgive me for doubting so often the reality of the resurrected Lord. I confess that there are times I reveal my doubt in my fears and apprehensions, or in my refusal to obey Your commands. I doubt and it shows up in my actions. But Your Son is alive and He has proven Himself so in my life. I have no reason to doubt.  Amen

Not An Option.

Matthew 27

Come down from the cross. - Vs 40 (NASB)

As Jesus hung on the cross, He continued to suffer verbal abuse from His accusers and those who had gathered to watch the grisly spectacle of His death. Matthew records that they were "hurling abuse" at Him, mocking and taunting Him. They shouted, "So! You can destroy the Temple and build it again in three days, can you? Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross" (Vs 40). They were reacting to a statement Jesus had made earlier in His ministry and that had been brought up again at His trial. John records it in his gospel. When Jesus had cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem, kicking out the money changers and overturning tables, the Jewish leaders had demanded a sign to confirm that He had authority to do what He had done. Jesus' response was, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19 - NASB). This was the main accusation brought against Jesus in His trial by false witnesses. They claimed that Jesus had said, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days" (Matthew 26:61 - NASB). But John makes it clear that Jesus had been speaking of the temple of His body. He had been predicting His bodily resurrection.

Now, here He hung on the cross and was being taunted to come down. In their minds, this would be what it would take to convince them of His claim to be the Messiah. Not that they even remotely believed He just might do it. But I find it interesting that they were asking Him to do the one thing He could not, or would not do. Come down from the cross. That is exactly what the enemy would have loved to see Him do. Come down from the cross. Stop the one thing that would bring redemption and hope to mankind. Stop God's divine plan for man's ultimate salvation. If Jesus had called down angels and had them rescue Him from the cross, many would have probably believed. But they would not have been saved. Their sins would not have been payed for. They would still have been required to live according to the Law, attempting to satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God, in their own strength. And they would have failed, like all those before them.

"Come down from the cross!", they shouted. "He saved others," they scoffed, "but he can’t save himself! So he is the king of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him! He trusted God––let God show his approval by delivering him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God'" (Vs 42-43, NLT). This whole event made no sense to them. If He was the Messiah, then He wouldn't be on the cross in the first place. And if He was the Messiah, then God would avenge Him by delivering Him. If THAT was to happen, then they would believe. But it wouldn't happen, because it couldn't happen. Because our hope lay not in God delivering Jesus from the cross, but from death. Jesus' victory was not going to be over the cross, but over sin and the grave. "For the power of the life–giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death" (Romans 8:2 - NLT). Had Jesus come down from the cross, it would have accomplished nothing. Sure, it would have been impressive, but it would not have been redemptive. It would not have saved. He had to die in order that we might live. He had to be sacrificed in order to satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God. Coming down from the cross was NOT an option. And because Jesus chose to remain where He was and suffer the full brunt of sin's assault on His life, we have eternal life. "But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power" (Acts 2:24 - NASB). God delivered Jesus from death, not the cross. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Father, thank You for the victory of Jesus Christ over death and sin. Thank You Jesus for enduring the cross, for remaining where You were and enduring what You didn't deserve – all for me. Thank You that You chose not to save Yourself, so that we might be saved. Yours was a life of selfless service right to the very end. And I am eternally grateful.  Amen

Ken Miller Grow Pastor & Minister to Men kenm@christchapelbc.org

No Other Way.

Matthew 26

Does it not seem possible to you that if I make request to my Father he will even now send me an army of angels?. – Vs 53 (BBE)

I love this verse for a number of reasons. First, it assures me of Jesus' confidence in His identity. He is the Son of God and He has every right and the authority to end the madness that is about to take place – with just a word from His mouth. All He has to do is ask His Father, and thousands of thousands of angels would come to His aid. He could wipe out the Pharisees and all the other so-called religious rules, including the High Priest Caiaphas. And if I had been Jesus, I probably would have done it. At this point in the proceedings, I would have gotten fed up with the disciples and everyone else around me and put an end to this madness. But that's not what Jesus did. When Peter strikes off the ear of one of the high priest's slaves, Jesus tells him to put his sword away. Peter was not going to be able to stop what was about to happen. But Jesus could have. And He didn't.

He could have stopped the arrest. He could have prevented the trials, the beatings, the ridicule, the verbal and physical abuse, and ultimately, His death. But Jesus was going to finish what He had begun. He asks the somewhat rhetorical question, "How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?" (Vs 54). He knew He had to follow through with the divine plan in its entirety – even if it meant pain and suffering at the "hands of sinners" (Vs 45), the hands of men He Himself had created. He knew He had to fulfill the prophesies made so many centuries before. He was the key to God's plan of salvation for mankind. His humanity struggled with the prospects of suffering a violent death on a Roman torture device. He prayed three times in the garden, asking, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will" (Vs 39). His humanity longed to escape this destiny of death. But His divinity was determined to obey the will of the Father. From the time that Satan first tempted Jesus in the garden, trying to get Him to take a path other than the one God the Father had prescribed, Jesus had been faithful and obedient. And it wasn't going to change now.

It must happen this way. And it did. Jesus went willingly. He suffered silently. He died gladly. All so that we might live eternally.

Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8, NLT

Jesus could have called down angels to rescue Himself. But He came to rescue us. "He died for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live" (Galatians 1:4, NLT).

Father, thank You for You divine plan of redemption. Without it I would be lost. Jesus, thank You for willingly following through with that plan. You didn't have to do it. You didn't have to save me. You didn't have to die in my place, but you did. You could have called down angels, but you didn't. And I can't thank You enough!  Amen

Listen and Respond.

Matthew 25

For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. – Vs 29 (NASB)

This is a difficult statement, smack dab in the middle of a very difficult section of teaching on the kingdom of God by Jesus. And this particular phrase has been used by Jesus before. Over in Matthew 13, He used the same exact words after explaining to His disciples why He spoke in parables. "Jesus answered them, 'To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted'" (Matthew 13:22, NASB). Then He followed with "For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall not be taken away from him." Jesus used this same phrase again in speaking about the lamp. "And He was saying to them, 'A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear'" (Mark 4:21-23, NASB). Then He immediately follows this up with, "Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him" (Mark 4:24-25, NASB).

So what's the point? What's the common theme going on in these situations? It's interesting that more often than not, I have heard this phrase of Jesus explained as a lesson on stewardship. Typically, I have heard it used to encourage faithful tithing or the faithful use of our talents. And while there may be some way in which this application can be derived from Jesus' statement, the more I read it in the contexts in which He used it, the more I believe He was not speaking of stewardship or finances at all. It would appear to me that in all three of the cases we looked at above, recorded by three different gospel writers, the real issue is how we respond to the truth. In the Matthew 25 passage, Jesus has told the parable of the talents. Three different servants have been given money by their master before he leaves on a journey. He has entrusted them with something that belongs to him. Jesus tells what each of the three did with what they were entrusted. The one with five talents doubled what he was given to ten. We aren't told how. The one who was entrusted with two talents gained two more. Again, we aren't told how. Finally, the one who was given the one talent did nothing with his, but buried it, returning it to the master when he came back. The first two are recognized as being faithful and receive a reward. Their reward was increased responsibility and the recognition of their master's joy. The third is condemned as unfaithful, wicked, and lazy. His crime? He did nothing with what he was entrusted. The issue here is not talents or abilities. It has nothing to do with our good stewardship of money or resources. But it has everything to do with how we respond to the truth of God that has been entrusted to us. To some, God entrusts more. As He did with the disciples. They were given a special measure of God's truth as revealed through Jesus Christ. They responded to it and were rewarded accordingly. To others, they heard the words of Jesus, saw the miracles He performed, but failed to do anything with what they had been given. They did not respond to the truth.

The same is true in the Mark passage. The lamp in Jesus' story represents light or the truth. Jesus is that light. He was the truth of God being revealed to men. In John 1:9, Jesus referred to Himself as the "true light." In John 9:5 He said, "I am the light of the world." In John 1:5 we are told "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." Jesus was the light that came to shine in the world, but some would refuse to recognize it and respond to it. They would end up rejecting the truth. That's why Jesus side "Take care what you listen to." This has to do with listening to and responding to the truth. The New Living Translation says it this way, "And be sure to pay attention to what you hear. The more you do this, the more you will understand––and even more, besides."

This is all about listening and responding. Using what we have been given by God. Not our talents and abilities. But the truth that has been entrusted to us. We have been given insight into the kingdom of God. We have been given the ability to understand the truth of the gospel. Now what are we doing with it? "Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given" (Luke 12:48, NLT). We have been given much. God has shared the truth of new life in Jesus Christ with us. What are we doing with it? Are we allowing it to change us and transform us? Or are we doing nothing with it? Are we resting on our laurels, content to have our "ticket to heaven," but not doing growing and maturing into Christ-likeness? We have the truth. We live in the light. And the more we understand it and respond to it, the more truth we receive and the brighter the light shines.

Father, thank You for giving me Your truth through Jesus Christ. You are the one who opened my eyes to see. You opened my ears to hear. You have given me much. Help me to continue to respond to the truth I have received by obeying it. You promise to give me more and more. Your supply is endless. Your grace and mercy are never ending. Your wisdom is without bounds. I can never exhaust your supply. Thank you.  Amen

Find Us Faithful.

Matthew 24

Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. – Vs 46 (NET Bible)

This is a deep and difficult passage with a lot of end time prophesy given by Jesus. The disciples asked what they thought was a fairly simple question: "Make clear to us, when will these things be? and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world?" (BBE). I think they were really wondering when He was going to set up His kingdom. The Greek word they use for "coming" is parousia and it can mean "arrival." It's the same word commonly used for the Lord's return, but I think the disciples were using it to signify His arrival in Jerusalem as King. In just a few days Jesus would "arrive" in Jerusalem to cheers and shouts of "Hosanna!" But in spite of the disciple's expectations, this would not be His official "arrival."

But their simple question would get a very complex answer. Jesus ends up telling them more than they wanted to know and more than they would ever understand. But in all the things that Jesus would share with them regarding the tribulation times and His ultimate return, the phrase that struck me hardest was "blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes." This is part of a small parable that Jesus weaved into His lecture on the ends times. He has been talking about being ready because His return will be unexpected and unannounced. Jesus never answers the part of their questions regarding the timing of His arrival. He basically tells them that only God knows the answer to that question. So they need to be ready. But none of the disciples would live to see His second coming. And none of us will be around either, due to the nature of the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13;18). But Jesus says that those who come to know Him during the great tribulation will need to be ready for Him to return at any time. So that when He does return, He will find them doing their jobs, doing what they are supposed to be doing, That is the essence of His mini-parable.

And isn't that how we should be living our lives? Always ready. Always living with a sense of anticipation. There is a sense in which each of us as Christ-followers should have our sights set on the return of Christ. We should live as if He will show up this afternoon. We should want Him to return. And the truth is, He could return for His church any day. "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

So I need to be doing what I am supposed to be doing. I need to be about My Father's business. That means I shouldn't be distracted by the things of this world. I don't want to have Him show up and find me busy doing my own thing. This is the way the disciples would end up living their lives. After Jesus was resurrected, they would each live their lives as if He was about to come back any minute. They fulfilled the Great Commission. They kept the Great Commandment. None would live to see the rapture of the church or the physical return of Christ, but they lived their entire lives in a state of perpetual readiness. That is how I want to live. I want to live a life of faithfulness. So that if Jesus should return for His church, He will find me ready. But if He delays and I experience death, I want my life to be a testimony of faithfulness. So that those who come behind me will find inspiration for their lives.

We're pilgrims on the journey

Of the narrow road

And those who've gone before us line the way

Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary

Their lives a stirring testament to God's sustaining grace

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses

Let us run the race not only for the prize

But as those who've gone before us

Let us leave to those behind us

The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

May the fire of our devotion light their way

May the footprints that we leave

Lead them to believe

And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone

And our children sift through all we've left behind

May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover

Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

May the fire of our devotion light their way

May the footprints that we leave

Lead them to believe

And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.

Words and Music by Jon Mohr
Copyright 1988 Birdwing Music/Jonathan Mark Music

Father, I want to live a life of faithfulness. I want to be ready for Your Son's return. Help me avoid the distractions of this world. Keep me on the path that You have prepared for me. May my life have a fire of devotion that lights the way for others to follow.  Amen


Spirit of the Pharisees.

Matthew 23

Woe to you! - Vs 13 (NASB)

Chapter 23 is an extension of Jesus verbal blasting of the Pharisees He began in chapter 22. In fact, it is an even more personal attack than ever. But while Jesus is addressing the faults and failings of the Pharisees and scribes, His real message seems to be one of warning to His own followers. He is exposing to His disciples the characteristics of the Pharisees that He detests. He is warning them to "not do according to their deeds" (Vs 3), or better yet, not follow their example. There are some sobering warnings for us in these verses as well.

Just look at some of the terms Jesus uses for these men: hypocrites, blind guides, fools and blind men. He accuses them of being glory seekers, attention grabbers, power mongers, and religious nit-pickers. He exposes their pseudo-righteousness, religious hypocrisy, legalism, abuse of power, neglect of the poor and powerless, pious externalism, and self-deception. It would be really easy to look at this chapter and just focus in on the faults of the Pharisees – to gang up on them and blast them as religious losers who are well-deserving of what is coming to them. But I think Jesus is trying to warn us that we are all prone to the same tendencies. The disciples themselves had grown up idolizing these men. They were the religious elite of their day. If there had been Pharisee baseball cards, the disciples would have tried to collect the whole set – even get their autographs to increase the card's value. They stood in awe of what these men said and how they lived. They feared them and revered them. Now Jesus was blasting them. Why? Because He wanted to expose their hearts to His followers. Jesus had come to turn the religious world on its ear. It was not longer going to be business-as-usual. No more religious hokem-pokem and spiritual smoke and mirrors. No more self-righteous fakery and pious pretending. Jesus came to bring heart transformation, not some pathetic attempt at behavior modification.

Everything Jesus slams the Pharisees for we can be guilty of – even as Christ-followers. We can be guilty of saying things and not doing them. We can teach the Word and not live it. We can spout God's truth and not even believe the words that are coming out of our mouth. We can demand that our kids be godly, but then fail to show them how with our own lives. We can burden down others with our own brand of legalistic rules and regulations: Don't dance, don't play cards, don't go to movies, don't … you get the picture. But we won't come alongside those same people and help them live the life God has called them to live. We can be guilty of seeking the attention of men, the places of honor, the positions of power, the mantle of leadership, and the service of others – all within the walls of the church. We can be guilty of turning others away from Christ by the way we live our lives. Our hypocrisy becomes a turn-off to the lost. We can easily neglect the poor and powerless around us, whether its the single mom trying to raise her kids on a limited income, the widow who can't maintain her home, the couple who've lost their income, or the lonely individual who comes to church every Sunday just hoping someone will give them the time of day. We can be guilty of making our own rules and silly regulations that have little or no basis in Scripture. We want everyone to follow our rules and regulations. Whether it's our arbitrary time requirement for a proper quiet time, our expectation that everyone attend Bible study as often as we do, pray as much as we do, or dress like we do. We can be guilty of looking good on the outside when the inside is a totally different story. We can reject the words of God's appointed teachers by sitting in sermons and classes, hearing the truth of God, but refusing to apply it to our lives.

Every one of the accusations Jesus levels at the Pharisees can be leveled at us. We can be guilty of the very same things. That is the danger. We all the spirit of the Pharisee within us. It is the spirit of religious formalism and self-righteousness. It reeks of pride, arrogance, and self-sufficiency. It rejects Christ's call for humility and death to self. It loathes the idea of serving rather than being served. It despises all that Jesus represents. It sees Him as a threat to its well-being. And the Pharisee is alive and well today – in all of us. So we have to take Jesus' woes to heart. Woe was an expression of grief, not anger. Jesus is grieved by this kind of attitude, especially in His people. It is dangerous, deceptive, and destructive. And it is a real threat to each one of us today.

Father, open our eyes so that we can see the Pharisee within us. Don't let us accuse others when we have those same traits within ourselves. May we be just as grieved as Jesus was over the Pharisee-like attitudes and actions that exist in our own lives. Expose them to us so that we can repent of them. Give us hearts of humility so that we might serve You.  Amen

Few Are Chosen.

Matthew 22

For many are called, but few are chosen. – Vs 14 (NASB)

A king holds a wedding feast for his son who is getting married.

He had sent out invitations to his guests.

When the time came, he sent his servants to inform the guests there party was starting.

But all his guests turned him down – having no desire to go to his party.

So he sent out his servants again – telling them to tell his guests just how good his party was going to be.

But those invited to the party didn't care – and went about their affairs.

Some even took the king's servants and beat them, even killing some.

The king, in anger, sent his army to punish these people, destroying their town and themselves.

He then sends his servants to invite new guests – to replace the first ones – who had refused his invitation.

So they hit the streets and invited anyone and everyone they met – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The wedding hall was filled, including one guest who came improperly dressed for the occasion.

The king had this man bound and thrown out of the festivities.

What a story. As usual, Jesus had an audience in mind. It was the same group His last two parables were directed at: The Pharisees. But in this case, it also included the Jews as a people. Jesus is saying that God had invited the Jews to His feast. He had called them and made them His own. They had done nothing to deserve the "invitation to his party." They were no different than anyone else, but God had set Israel apart – making them holy and wholly His. But they had rebelled. The had ultimately refused His invitation. They had no desire to take part in what God had planned for them. They grumbled, complained, rebelled, and sought after other gods. They had refused to listen to God's prophets – rejecting their messages and even killing some. And even as Jesus spoke, there were many who were rejecting His message or repentance and restoration. Jesus was that final invitation to celebrate with God, but "they paid no attention and went their way" (Vs 5 - NASB). Just as the Jews of the Old Testament rejected the message of God and ended up in captivity with the city of Jerusalem ransacked and destroyed, so too would the Jews of Jesus' day find their sacred city of Jerusalem destroyed in less than 40 years from the time Jesus spoke. Their refusal was going to result in destruction.

You're Invited

But here's the great news. Because the Jews turned their backs on God, He opened up the doors to us. We are those who were ultimately invited to the festivities because of the rejection of the Jews. We weren't even aware there was a party. We hadn't received an invitation. And the, all of the sudden, we get a personal invitation from God Himself, inviting us to be His guests at His Son's wedding feast. He even provided the wedding garments for us to wear. This was a last-minute invite and we didn't have anything to wear to this shin-dig, so God provided the clothes for us to wear to His party. That's why the guy who showed up dressed inappropriately was kicked out. He was not wearing the clothes the king had provided. He came dressed in his own "righteousness" and was thrown out. This "party" to which I have been invited is something I could have never dreamed of being a part of. I didn't deserve the invitation. I didnt know the King or His Son. I didn't have the right credentials. I didn't even own the right kind of wedding clothes to attend a party like this. But God provided it all! My presence at His Son's wedding feast is all His doing and not mine. That's pretty amazing.

God's not done!

Here's another exciting thought. God is not done with Israel. Paul makes that perfectly clear in his letter to the Romans.

Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! His purpose was to make his salvation available to the Gentiles, and then the Jews would be jealous and want it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the Jews turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when the Jews finally accept it. I am saying all of this especially for you Gentiles. God has appointed me as the apostle to the Gentiles. I lay great stress on this, for I want to find a way to make the Jews want what you Gentiles have, and in that way I might save some of them. For since the Jews’ rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, how much more wonderful their acceptance will be. It will be life for those who were dead! – Romans 11:11-15

What a picture of God's sovereign plan. He is in control. He knows exactly what He is doing. Israel's rejection of His Son was not a set-back for Him. It was all part of His plan to restore all mankind to a right relationship to Him. God chose Israel and used Israel to show how man could not achieve righteousness on his own. They were given God's righteous laws, but couldn't keep them. They failed. Even the Pharisees of Jesus' day were still trying to keep the Law and earn their way into God's good favor. But they would ultimately kill His Messenger. They would reject God's righteousness for their own. But God is not done with Israel. Paul goes on to say:

Many of the Jews are now enemies of the Good News. But this has been to your benefit, for God has given his gifts to you Gentiles. Yet the Jews are still his chosen people because of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the Jews refused his mercy, God was merciful to you instead. And now, in the same way, the Jews are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you. But someday they, too, will share in God’s mercy. For God has imprisoned all people in their own disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone. – Romans 11:28-32 (NLT)

Mercy on everyone!

God is an amazing God. In spite of all Israel has done, He will show mercy. He will keep His promises to them. He has not abandoned them. They too will share in His mercy, just as we have. They will receive His grace, in spite of their rebellion and rejection. That's the kind of God we serve. He is faithful and just, gracious and merciful, holy and loving. The fact that any of us will be at the wedding feast of His Son is amazing enough. But I am grateful and humbled by the truth that I will be there – at His invitation and clothed in His righteousness and not my own.

Father, what a story of your grace and mercy. Thank You for inviting me to your feast. For providing the clothes to wear. I am amazed and awed at the significance of it all. And thank You that you are the kind of god who does not reject His own. Your faithful love for the people of Israel is a testament and a reminder of your faithfulness to me. You will never reject me, in spite of me. Your love is everlasting.  Amen

Pharisee Or Faithful.

Matthew 21

When the leading priests and Pharisees heard Jesus, they realized he was pointing at them – that they were the farmers in his story. - Vs– 45 (NLT)

There was no love lost between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. It wasn't that Jesus hated the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and priests. But He did hate their false piety, self-righteousness, and arrogant assumption that they were pleasing God with their hypocritical rule-keeping. Jesus came to destroy those assumptions and to eliminate man's failed attempts at satisfying God through self-effort. The Pharisees and their pious peers were symbolic of all that is wrong with religion – man's attempt to reach God and impress Him with our works. So while Jesus walked this earth, He had some strong words for these men. And none stronger than the two parables He tells in chapter 21.

Now I've always had it in for the Pharisees. I grew up learning to despise their attitudes and actions. They were the bad guys, enemies of Jesus. They wore the black hats and Jesus wore a white one. I learned to view them as evil and conniving. But then there came a time in my spiritual journey when I started to see myself as a Pharisee. Or better yet, I began to see the Pharisee in me. I suddenly realized that I could be just as self-righteous and hypocritical. I could be just as much a man-pleaser as they were. I found that I could become prideful over all my good works for God. I compared myself with others and worked hard to find those who didn't measure up to my standards, so that I could feel better about myself. I developed lists of rules and regulations that dictated how I was to live my life. I tried to keep all those rules and regulations – usually with less-than-stellar results. But when I could check off a few of them, I became prideful and arrogant. I had become the very thing I despised: A Pharisee. And so, when I read this chapter, I have to listen with ears as if Jesus is talking to me. I can't afford to stand on the sideline as a spectator, watching the Messiah dress down the Pharisees. No, I need to hear what He may be saying the Pharisee that lives in me.

The Will of the Father

The first parable is about a man who had two sons. He asks the first son to go work out in his vineyard. This son initially says, "No," but then later regrets that decision and goes to work in the vineyard. When the father asks his second son to work in the vineyard, he says, "OK," but then never follows through. Jesus asks His listeners which of the sons did the will of his father, and they respond, "The first." Then Jesus makes His point. "I assure you, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the way to life, and you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to turn from your sins and believe him" (Vs 31-32 - NLT). The real point of this parable seems to be the two kinds of people it characterizes. The first sons represents those who prove better than they promise. Their initial response is "No," but then they act in obedience. The second son represents those who promise better than they prove. They give all appearances of being obedient, but in the end, refuse. Both of these sons had been given the same command. One refused, but ultimately obeyed. One gave the impression he would obey, but never did. In the story, it is obvious that Jesus is comparing the tax collectors, prostitutes, and more apparent sinners in his audience to the Pharisees, and those who held them in high esteem. Jesus is saying that the ones you would think would get into heaven will not. And the ones you would least think should get into heaven will. Why? Because of one word that Jesus uses in His parable. It is the Greek word metamelomai. It is translated "regretted or changed his mind." It means “to change one’s mind about something, with the probable implication of regret.” The idea in this context involves more than just a change of mind, for the son regrets his initial response and changes his actions. Only the first son shows regret or repentance that leads to a changed response. The second son didn't change his mind. He never intended to do what he said he was going to do. In verse 32, Jesus indicates that the Pharisees rejected the ministry of John the Baptist. They refused to believe his message. And even when they saw the tax collectors and prostitutes believing, they "did not even feel remorse (metamelomai) afterward so as to believe him" (NASB). At no point did they repent and show a change of heart.

The Rejected Son

The second parable is even harder than the first. In it, Jesus lays out exactly what has happened over the centuries and what is about to happen in the days ahead. For generations, the Jews had been rejecting the Word of God brought by the prophets of God. They had abused them and even killed them. Now God had sent His own Son, and they were rejecting Him as well. And in just a few days they would even have Him killed. Of course, Jesus' audience doesn't understand all this because He is speaking to them in a parable. So He asks them what the owner of the vineyard in His story will do to those who killed his servants and his son, they say, "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" (Vs 41 - NLT). Without knowing it, they condemn themselves. Jesus tells them that, as a result, "God's kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life." (Vs 43 - NLT). Their refusal to accept Jesus and allow Him to direct their lives would lead to their rejection by God.

So what does all this have to do with us? We are that people. The ones who have had the kingdom of God handed over to us. And we are expected to live out a "kingdom life." We are the ones who initially said, "No," but then repented and said yes. We obeyed and went to work in the vineyard. But every day we face the choice of being faithful or Pharisees, of saying, "No," then repenting and obeying, or saying "Yes," but never intending to keep our word. Jesus is looking those who will faithfully obey and who will live out a kingdom life – producing the fruit that comes from a relationship with him. The Pharisees were sinners who were blind to their sin, thinking they were righteous and in no need for a Savior. The tax collectors and prostitutes represent us – sinners who recognize their sin and their need for a Savior. I need a Savior every day. I need to acknowledge my sin every day. I need to repent and obey every day. Because I have been given the kingdom and God wants to produce His fruit through me.

Father, forgive me for being a Pharisee so many times in my life. I sometimes live as if I don't need You. I act as if I can save myself, change myself, and justify myself. But I can't. Keep reminding me to repent of my own self-righteousness and turn to You for help. I want my life to produce the fruit of your kingdom. I want my life to honor You. Thank You that I can because of what Jesus Christ has done for me and in me.  Amen

A Heavenly Reward.

Matthew 20

So the last shall be first, and the first last. – Vs 16 (NASB)

I think that I have always misunderstood this verse. I have tended to view it as a statement regarding position or prominence. But in the context of Jesus parable of the kingdom, it is a statement regarding equality. It is interesting that Jesus bookends his parable of the kingdom, found in verses 1-16, with this same statement. You find it in the closing verse of chapter 19 and in verse 16 of chapter 20. It is also book-ended by two stories of the disciples asking questions regarding position, prominence, and power. In chapter 19, verse 27, Peter asks Jesus, "We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?" (NLT). He is wanting to know what their reward is going to be for having sacrificed everything to follow Jesus. Jesus then tells them that they will be rewarded, they will sit on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Judah. But then he says something else. "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life" (NASB). Jesus seems to be saying that the disciples are not the only ones who will be required to give up a lot to follow Jesus. So they are going to be rewarded as well – just like the disciples. And their reward will be far more valuable than what they may have been required to give up. They will receive the priceless reward of eternal life. Then Jesus makes the statement: "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." The disciples and all those who come after them because of their witness, will all be equal in the kingdom. It doesn't matter that Peter and his companions were the first to follow Jesus. Those of us who have become Christ-followers centuries later will receive the same reward. The very last person to follow Christ before the rapture of the church takes place will receive the same eternal life that Peter did. And the disciples, like the laborers in Jesus' parable will have no room for complaint. In fact, Jesus seems to tell this parable because He knew the hearts of His disciples. They were a competitive group who had some significant aspirations for recognition and reward, and eternal life was not necessarily at the top of their list of rewards. So Jesus tells them this parable about the kingdom. And it seems blatantly directed at the disciples.

You have a landowner who owns a vineyard. He goes out early in the morning and hires a group of laborers to work that vineyard, agreeing to pay them a denarius for their efforts. Then throughout the day he hires new laborers, who go to work at different times of the day. He even hires some at the very end of the day. But every one of them receives the same reward for their work: a denarius. When the first group becomes indignant at this slight, the landowner says to them, "Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?" (NET Bible). Then Jesus closes this story with the statement, "So the last shall be first, and the first last."

The point seems to be the reward: Eternal life. We shall all receive the same thing – out of God's kindness and mercy. None of us will deserve any more than any other. In fact, the eternal life we receive will so outweigh any work we have done or anything we may have given up, that there is no comparison. We all will receive the same reward. I think Jesus is even saying that the gift of eternal life will mean more to the disciples than the thrones they will sit on ruling over the 12 tribes of Israel. Those positions and the power they represent will pale in comparison. But it's very interesting that after having told this parable to the disciples, then after having shared with them what is about to happen to Him when He arrives in Jerusalem (arrest, trial, beating, mocking, and crucifixion), Matthew records the incident of the mother of James and John coming to Jesus. She has come to request that Jesus give her two sons positions of power and prominence in His coming kingdom. "In your Kingdom, will you let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one at your right and the other at your left?" (Vs 21 - NLT). Her request represents the hearts of the disciples. It is what they wanted. Eternal life was not enough. They wanted more. They wanted power and position. They wanted recognition. But Jesus tells them that things are different in His kingdom. It isn't about being served, it's about serving. He tells them, "But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must become your slave" (Vs 26-27 - NLT). Their eyes were focused on an earthly kingdom. They were expecting Jesus to establish His throne in Jerusalem and set up His kingdom there. They wanted to be sure they were considered for the highest positions of power in that kingdom. But Jesus is letting them know that His kingdom had come. It was here, but not in the form they were expecting. His kingdom was about serving and sacrifice, not power, position, and prominence. Jesus Himself had come to serve, not be served. They were to follow His example. While on this earth, they were going to learn that the position they should be seeking was that of being on their knees as servants, not sovereigns. They were going to learn to put themselves last in order that others might come to know Christ. Their greatness would come from being humble. Their reward would come for being faithful.

And so it is with us. We need to recognize that while Jesus delays His return, we are part of His kingdom here on earth. We are His ambassadors. We are His laborers. We don't need to be worrying about recognition and power. We need to be serving. We need to be giving. We need to follow His example of selfless sacrifice and service. Not so that we will receive some great reward here, but because we already have a great reward awaiting us - eternal life. A reward that is priceless and beyond anything we could ever receive this side of heaven. So we serve here because of what we are going to receive there. We gladly give away now, because of what we will receive then. We gladly take on the position of a slave on this earth, because we know we are heirs of a heavenly kingdom.

Father, thanks for reminding me that I am going to receive a reward in heaven that is so incredibly priceless. I don't need to worry about what I am going to get here. I don't need to fret over getting recognition and rewards here. What I am going to receive there is worth it all. Any acts of service I do and any suffering I encounter here are well worth the reward waiting for me there. Help me to remember that daily, so that I would spend more of my time serving - gladly and humbly. Amen