Monthly Archives: November 2016

Today’s Scripture – November 29, 2016

Matthew 12:8 (NIV) “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

This was a very bold thing for Jesus to say to the Pharisees.  They would have heard Him saying that He could decide for Himself what was and was not allowed and appropriate for the Sabbath, regardless of how the Pharisees interpreted the law.

But what He was actually saying was more profound and much more challenging to the Pharisees than what they understood.  In this statement, Jesus was claiming unequivocally to be God Himself.

Just a couple of verses earlier (verse 6), Jesus had said that “one greater than the temple is here,” clearly indicating Himself.  (And what could possibly be greater than the temple except for God Himself?!)  And now He is claiming that He, the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath, able to authoritatively say what was and wasn’t okay with God!

How could Jesus make that astounding claim?  It actually took the disciples themselves a long time to understand.  But Jesus was God in the flesh.  Which God?  There is only one true God – the God who created the heavens and the earth; who created man from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life; who called Abraham, and who spoke to Moses from the top of Mount Sinai; the God who built the law, and had the sole right to interpret it.  Jesus could say what was in the law, and what was meant by it, because He Himself was its author.  He knew exactly what was meant by every syllable.

Even though He didn’t look it to the Pharisees, Jesus really was greater than the temple, because the temple was built for Him.  Even though the Pharisees couldn’t accept it, Jesus was not only the Son of Man, but God in the flesh, and thus not only Lord of the Sabbath, but even Lord over those who were right then challenging His authority.

Father, this isn’t easy to fit into our brains; how much harder for those who were only willing to accept Jesus as a man!  But we know that Jesus is in fact God in the flesh, and Lord over all creation (Hebrews 1:2-3, 8).  And, of course, this realization needs to inform our understanding of Jesus statement, “If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching.” (John 14:23 NIV)  Jesus’ teachings are not just those of a good man, like the teachings of C.S. Lewis or Gandhi – they are the very words of God!  Help me to live this truth today, Lord.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 28, 2016

Matthew 12:1-7 (NIV) At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath.  His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread–which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?  I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.  If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”

Right on cue, the Pharisees provided an opportunity for Jesus to show clearly the contrast between His light and easy yoke and the hard, burdensome yoke that the Pharisees insisted on putting on people (cf. Matthew 11:28-30).  The disciples were doing nothing wrong.  In fact, the law actually allowed hungry travelers to pick grain and fruit from the fields, orchards, and vineyards they passed, as long as they only picked what they could eat on the spot (Deuteronomy 23:24-25).

What the Pharisees were objecting to was that the disciples were (by the Pharisees’ definition, not God’s) breaking the laws against doing work on the Sabbath.  By their definition, picking grain was harvesting (even though they had no sickle, and were merely picking a few grain heads to eat on their way), rubbing the kernels in their hands to remove the hulls was threshing, and chewing the grains was milling, using their teeth to grind the grain into flour.

The Pharisees wanted Jesus to call His disciples on what they saw as the heinous sin of Sabbath breaking.  But Jesus wasn’t going to do that.  He knew that the rules they were referencing were man’s rules that had made the Sabbath an onerous duty, not the real, God-given commands that were designed to allow man to rest from his labors one day each week.

Instead, Jesus gave the Pharisees two illustrations to show how God’s rules were more flexible and adaptive than those that had been added by people.  The first happened when David was fleeing from King Saul, and had to flee so quickly that he had no time to gather supplies for himself and his men.  The priest, Ahimelech, gave him the consecrated bread that only the priests could legally eat. (1 Samuel 21:6).  But God wasn’t so hard and fast on his rules that people were required to go hungry when there was perfectly good bread right inside His tabernacle.

The second illustration is taken from the fact that the priests do their work of leading prayers and making sacrifices in the temple, even on the Sabbath, but God didn’t count that as a violation of the Sabbath laws.  When faced with a choice of obeying God’s command to make the Sabbath sacrifices, or obeying the Sabbath law that forbids them working on the Sabbath, they chose, correctly, to obey the work that God had called them to.

Jesus pointed these Pharisees to the words God spoke through the prophet Hosea (Hosea 6:6), that God wanted His people to reflect His character by showing mercy to others even more than he wanted their sacrifices.  (Also see Isaiah 10:11-20.)  When these Pharisees saw their rules as more important than caring about the hunger of the disciples, they betrayed a heart that was massively different from God’s heart.  And, unless they softened their hearts, it would prove to be their undoing.

Father, we can be really good at keeping the rules, and still have hard hearts toward others that completely negate any good that comes from our keeping the rules.  Soften our hearts, Lord, so that they are filled with mercy, just like Your heart.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 27, 2016

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

At the time that Jesus came, the Jewish faith had degraded from a relationship with God in which people learned who He was in relationship with Him, to a complex system of rules, requirements, and sacrifices, all designed on one hand to not offend God, and on the other, to placate Him.

But what God was after was not slavish obedience to rules, but a people who would seek the same kind of relationship with Him that Moses had enjoyed, a man with whom God spoke face-to-face.  He wanted a people who reflected His character, not just by counting out dill and cumin seeds, but whose hearts were so full of love for Him that that love drove out all sinful behavior.  He wanted a people who woke every morning seeking His face, who lived and worked each day conscious of His presence, and who went to bed each night secure in the knowledge that He was watching over them.

But what He had at the time of Jesus was a people completely fixated on rules.  He had a people who were burdened so severely by the layers of regulations that had grown up around His requirements that there was no joy in serving God, and no rest on His Sabbath.  There was only weariness in trying to keep track of the rules, fear of stepping outside the lines, and, for those who did it most regularly, a robotic obedience to rules that they had long forgotten the purpose for.

Some, like the Pharisees, were smug in their ability to stay in the lines.  But the great majority of people had long since given up.  They did the best that they could, hoped that it would be good enough, and lived in fear that it wouldn’t be.

Jesus was trying to restore things to the way that they were supposed to be, so that people could experience genuine fellowship with God, and genuine joy in serving Him.  He saw the people burdened by rules God had not written and commands that He had not made, and He worked to set them free.  It’s not that there were no requirements to be met in being God’s people.  But the requirements were to be met, the rules followed, in a relationship with God that was designed to fill the people’s heart with joy in serving Him.

In addition, Jesus invited people to take His yoke on themselves instead of the heavy yoke of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Not only was Jesus’ yoke lighter than the onerous burden these teachers had constructed, reverting to God’s real requirements, but the yoke-partner would be Jesus Himself.  He would be pulling with each person, and doing most of the heavy lifting Himself, showing the people what a real relationship with God was like, a relationship that He Himself lived out and demonstrated each day.

The invitation that Jesus continually offered, the invitation into God’s kingdom, was and is an invitation to fellowship, not rules.  It was and is an invitation to relationship, not requirements.  It is the light and well-fitted yoke of partnering with Jesus in the work of God’s kingdom.

Father, this is so easy to see when we look at the clear words of Jesus, yet we still cloud things up with our own layers of rules, requirements, and expectations that suck the joy out of the whole thing, and takes the focus entirely away from the restored relationship with You that Jesus made possible through His death and resurrection.  Help me to leave behind that heavy, chafing yoke today, and to take up instead the light and well-fitted yoke of Jesus, the yoke of relationship with You, of fellowship with all others on the same path, and of partnership with Jesus in the work of Your kingdom.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 25, 2017

Matthew 11:27 (NIV) “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

As harsh, narrow-minded, and non-politically correct as it might sound, there are not many paths to God.  There are not many ways in which He can be known.  All religions are not ultimately about the same God.

Many people think it unkind to say that Jesus is the only Way to God, the Father, and that people who refuse to enter into relationship with God through Jesus are doomed.  But those who think that way are missing the great and overriding truth:  God didn’t have to provide ANY way for mankind to know Him.  He could have remained a mysterious, unapproachable God who dwells in darkness and inspires only fear in those who reason out His existence.  But in His love for mankind, He provided a way – ONE way – by sending His one and only Son, Jesus, into the world to inaugurate God’s kingdom, to demonstrate His power to people, to not only teach them about God, but to show them His glory, and ultimately to die for them and rise again so that, through faith in Him and His work, they could be reconciled to God and live in relationship with Him forever.

There have been many false religions arise in the world, and many corruptions of Christianity, each claiming for themselves the mantle of truth.  But, even today, no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.  Still today, salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)  Still today, Jesus is the gate for the sheep, and the only way for those who will be saved (John 10:9).  And still today, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

Father, thank You for providing a way for us to be in relationship with You.  You are right, the truth is not that You are harsh for providing and accepting only one way.  The truth is that You are loving and merciful for providing any way at all!  Help me to not only live in Your Way today, but to share the good news of Your Way with lots of others.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 24, 2016

Matthew 11:25-26 (NIV) At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

The kingdom of heaven, though based in infinite and unspeakable things, is still best understood by those who approach it simply, like a child.  The learned Pharisees, teachers of the law, and priests could not “get” the kingdom, because they got continually caught up in debating about it, endlessly trying to dissect God’s words to try to see things more clearly.

A botanist may dissect a beautiful rose, carefully sketching each leaf and petal, and try to grasp its essence, all the way down to the cellular level.  But when he is done, no matter how skilled he may be in deconstructing it, what he comes out with lacks the simple nature of “rose,” a thing that is grasped easily by the child who oohs at the deep red color, and sniffs deeply with her nose buried in the velvety petals, reveling in the sweet-acrid aroma.

In the same way, a biologist may dissect a frog, skillfully isolating and sketching every structure in exquisite detail.  But when she is done, no matter how skilled she may be in deconstructing it, what she comes out with lacks the simple nature of “frog,” a thing that is grasped easily by the child who tries to follow its rapid hops in an effort to catch it, who shivers slightly at its cold, moist texture, and who tries to imitate the croaks that it makes.

Those who lose themselves in parsing the words of Scripture in order to wring every nuance out of each Greek or Hebrew word, and who agonize over sentence structure and variations in spellings, may dissect the kingdom of God very ably.  But when they are done, no matter how skillful they may be in deconstructing it, what they come out with lacks the simple nature of the kingdom of God, a thing that is grasped easily by the child who senses God’s presence in the dark of the night and in every cool breeze; who simply exults when needs are met in miraculous ways, without having to explain it theologically; and who sings joyful and simple songs of praise to God for the pure joy of lifting their hearts to Him.

The study of Scripture is necessary and important.  But every botanist who really wants to know roses needs to step out of their study to walk through a fragrant garden warmed by the summer sun, and relish in the colors, textures, and aromas with which they are surrounded.  Every biologist who really wants to know frogs needs to step out of their lab and try to catch one, barefooted and bare-handed, and to lay back on dew-dampened grass to hear their choruses in the morning.  And every theologian who really wants to know God’s kingdom must get out of their armchair and their scholarly discussions from time to time and approach it as a little child, to fall in love with the simple words of Jesus and the fascinating word-pictures He paints; to take on His life in the world by doing what He did, loving who He loved, and serving how He served; and to experience the raw awe and wonder of God’s presence, purity, power, passion and purpose for their lives each day.

Father, it is so easy for us to lose track of You in the intricacies of Your word, and to mistake deep understanding of the Scriptures for deep fellowship with You.  Help me to be a little child today in Your presence, so that I can experience the wonder of You afresh.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture

Matthew 11:20-24 (NIV) Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Korazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies?  No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.  But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

More light demands greater responsibility.  That is an old saying, but its truth was never more evident than in people’s response to Jesus.

Jesus did mighty miracles everywhere He went as a sign of the presence of God’s kingdom.  The concept was that anyone could say that God’s kingdom had arrived, and some people would follow them.  But when concrete evidence of God’s kingdom is present, the people will be held accountable if they do not believe and repent.

Jesus had spent a lot of time in both Korazin and Bethsaida, doing miracles and teaching clearly about God’s kingdom.  But, despite the evidence, the people were slow to respond.  They appreciated the miracles, but they would not acknowledge the truth of the kingdom that Jesus was preaching, and they would not turn away from their sins.  Their preferred scenario was for Jesus to keep visiting and keep doing miracles, and then go away and let them get on with their lives the way they preferred them.

The same attitude was even more prevalent in Capernaum.  Jesus used it as a home base for a couple of years.  Every time Jesus returned, the streets to His residence quickly filled up with the sick and demonized looking for help.  But when Jesus went away, the people just went on with their lives as if nothing special had happened.

Many of the people in these cities saw themselves as good people – at least as good as most people, and better than some.  But that self-view missed the point entirely.  If they had eyes that could see, they would have seen that it was none other than Holy One of Israel walking down their streets, staying across town, and touching their lives with healing.  Such knowledge would have prevented them from comparing themselves to others, and to simply see themselves in the light of Jesus. Such a clear view would have driven them to their knees.

But their eyes were glazed over with their own thoughts and opinions, and turned inward to their own needs, so they couldn’t clearly see, and thus they would not repent.  The doom pronounced by Jesus on these places is terrifying.  To be condemned as a community worse than Tyre and Sidon, gentile towns that had rejected God in spite of His earlier judgment on them, was mind boggling.  To be considered worse than Sodom was inconceivable.  But to refuse to repent in the very presence of the Son of God is to close one’s eyes to the biggest light imaginable, and to bring judgment on oneself.

Father, we all enjoy receiving from You and having You meet our needs. But after we have received, how can we simply go back to our own lives unchanged?  Forgive us for not being always so conscious of You and what You are doing in us and for us that we immediately renounce our old way of life, and exchange it for a life lived in You.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 19, 2016

Matthew 11:16-19 (NIV) “To what can I compare this generation?  They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:  ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’  But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”

You just can’t please some people, and the religious leaders just couldn’t be pleased.  They expected people to fit in with their viewpoint, or they considered them illegitimate.

John was an ascetic.  He lived in the wilderness, fasted often, and even when he did eat, he ate weird stuff like locusts and wild honey.  If anyone should have won the approval of the strict Pharisees, you would think it would be him!  But at the same time, John was a fierce denouncer of a spirituality that was only at the surface.  He had a keen ability to see past the rituals to the hearts that lay underneath, and he was not shy about speaking up about what he saw.  When he called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers,” their only defense was to mount an ad hominem attack:  the man was clearly demon possessed!

Jesus was at the opposite end of the spectrum.  He didn’t fast, and He attended parties thrown by people like Matthew.  He was easy-going and personable.  But at the same time, He was just as passionate as John in His denunciations of the surface spirituality that He saw in the religious leaders, constantly pointing out to them how their vision was too small, and their interpretations of Scripture were too undergirded by a faulty world view.  Again, their only defense was to resort to ad hominem attacks:  this man is a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners!

Ad hominem attacks used as a defense tactic do not prove anything about the accused, but speak volumes about the attackers.  In the end, the point was not about what John ate or where he lived; it was about the wisdom that he displayed in his life with God, and in how he perceived what was really going on in the hearts of the religious leaders.  The point was not about what Jesus ate and drank, or who he dined with; it was about the power of God shining through His whole life that threw the narrow, sin-filled hearts of the Pharisees and Sadducees into sharp contrast.  And those things shouted volumes that no amount of ad hominem attacks could ever drown out.

Father, it’s so easy for us to get defensive when opponents of the gospel start lobbing ad hominem attacks our way. But when that happens, we need to take a page from Jesus’ play book.  We need to always make sure to keep our relationship with You intact and strong, and our lives pure and clean.  And then we need to simply ignore the attacks, and let our lives speak for themselves about who we are in You.  Thank You for this wisdom.  Amen.

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