Monthly Archives: January 2017

Today’s Scripture – January 30, 2017

Matthew 16:13-16 (NIV) When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

There was no shortage of opinion as to the identity of Jesus among the people of Israel.  Some, like Herod, believed Him to be John the Baptist risen from the dead with miraculous powers.  This was primarily because of the similar emphasis on the kingdom of God in the messages of both men.

Others believed Jesus to be Elijah back from the dead, because of His ability to do mighty miracles like Elijah, and His often fierce denunciation of the “powers that be.”  They also hoped that, if He really was Elijah, that He was busy paving the way for the Messiah, according to the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 4:5-6).

Still others heard in Jesus’ clear teaching and uncompromising speaking of the message of God, the voice of a great prophet, like Jeremiah.  And with that viewpoint, they looked to Him to tell them clearly what God required of them, so that they could live in His favor and finally be allowed out from under the thumb of Rome.

These people saw Jesus here and there, and listened to Him for short periods.  They had seen a few examples of the miracles that Jesus could do, and had heard a sample of His teachings.  But His disciples had lived with Him for nearly three years at this point, and had heard and seen much more.

Peter spoke first, but nobody in the group disagreed with His answer to the question of Jesus’ identity:  “You are the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of the living God.”  It is important to note that this was not the impetuous judgment of someone caught up in the emotion of the moment.  Nor was it the declaration of a sycophant trying to curry favor, or the ignorant judgment of someone taken in by a few fake miracles.  These men had lived with Jesus continually for years.  They had seen who He really was when no crowds were around.  They had seen His miracles with clear and wondering eyes, and knew that no trickery could possibly explain what they had witnessed.  They had heard His teachings, and had seen His compassion and love for the people.  They had even heard His earnest prayers as He conversed with God, in phrases that sounded so real and natural, exactly like a son speaking to his father.

The fact that Jesus really was the Messiah was a conviction that some had had from the beginning (see John 1:41), but which had grown in the minds and hearts of the rest of the twelve over the weeks, months, and years of seeing Him work and hearing Him teach.  And now that Peter had actually spoken the words out loud, they looked to Jesus Himself to see His reaction.

Father, the opinions of those who dipped in and out of Jesus’ sphere as to His identity were useless, as were the opinions of those with axes to grind against Jesus.  How much more the opinions of those today who have a cursory understanding of what Jesus taught and did, or even those who are well versed, but only know Him from the pages of books and scholarly research.  Then, as now, only those who live with Jesus on a day-by-day basis, who hear His voice each day and experience His wonders first-hand in their lives can have a valid opinion as to who and what He is.  Thank You for enabling my relationship with Jesus, so that I can really know Him, and so that I can really know that He is indeed the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 29, 2017

Matthew 16:7-12 (NIV) They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?  Do you still not understand?  Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?  How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?  But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The minds of the disciples were on the things of this world.  Before Jesus spoke to them about “the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” they had noticed that they had forgotten to pack any bread for their journey, and were focused on where they could buy some before they went too far outside civilization.  That internal context led them to hear Jesus through that filter; they thought He was giving them instructions about where NOT to buy bread.

Jesus was understandably perplexed.  They were worried about what they would eat, concerned that they might somehow go hungry.  It was as if they hadn’t understood Jesus at all when He had taught them on the mountain “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31-34 NIV) They had also missed two key real-life illustrations of this principle in the feeding of the 5,000 and, just a few weeks later, the feeding of the 4,000.  After seeing how God had provided not just for the needs of the people, but for their needs as well through the baskets of leftovers they had collected, how could they let the issue of food ever be a concern for them?

Of course, this promise was never an invitation for God’s people to kick back and wait for Him to produce food out of thin air.  But, as Jesus tried to teach them, and as he lived out in His own life, when God’s people are on duty for Him, doing the work of His kingdom, He will provide for them in all kinds of way, including miracles.  And, of course, that goes far beyond just food and drink.  Jesus knew that God’s provision of power and discernment enabling Him to work His mission was actually more essential than food at times (see John 4:32).  And Paul discovered that, even in times of deprivation, imprisonment, and suffering, the provision of God’s presence and power to persevere enabled him to be perfectly content (see Philippians 4:11-13).

Father, I know that Jesus’ disciples ultimately learned these lessons.  But we need to learn them, too.  I admit that I sometimes allow myself to get caught up in a focus on making sure I have enough food, not just for today, but for future uncertainties.  And I sometimes worry when unexpected expenses eat into my savings.  It’s strange that we, who have been blessed with so much compared to most of the rest of the world, have such a hard time really trusting You enough to not worry, to be generous and even sacrificial in giving and helping others and in trusting You to provide all that we really need.  Help me to learn this lesson well, Lord, and apply it in my whole life.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 28, 2017

Matthew 16:5-6 (NIV) When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread.  “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Fresh from His encounter with the sign-demanding Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus gave His followers a stern warning:  “Be careful.  Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

The teachings of these religious leaders were eagerly lapped up by many people, because these men had authority in their eyes based on the positions and titles that they held.  They were admired by the people, who considered them especially holy and close to God.

But many of their teachings had nothing to do with God.  They were simply traditions handed down from the teachers of previous generations, and rules made by men.  These rules were so strict and difficult to follow that conventional wisdom said that they must have come from God.  But, as Paul pointed out to the Colossians, that was only appearance.  The rules taught by these leaders were completely impotent, unable to develop real righteousness in people (cf. Colossians 2:20-23).

The teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees spread like yeast.  They went from teacher to student, who then inculcated them into their families.  And from there, they continued to permeate the very fabric of society.

Jesus’ point to His followers was that, despite the seeming righteousness and holiness of these men, they were really whitewashed tombs, nice looking on the outside, but full of corruption within (cf. Matthew 23:27-28).  Their corrupt teachings were not to be taken up by the people of the kingdom, but counteracted with the truth.  Only if someone refused to allow their theology to be coopted by those teachings would the spread of false doctrine cease.

Father, we live in a similar world today.  Many in the Church hang on the words of charismatic religious teachers who seem to be blessed, to have it all. But some of those teachings are not only non-scriptural, but anti-scriptural, and taint the hearts and minds of those who buy into them.  As Your people, we must not allow our hearts and minds to become infected with these false teachings that spread like yeast, but instead, cling simply to Your word.  Thank You.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 27, 2017

Matthew 16:1-4 (NIV) The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.  A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

Despite Jesus’ long record of miracles, some of which they themselves saw (and objected to because they were done on the Sabbath), these religious leaders came to Jesus and demanded a miraculous sign from Him on the spot to prove Himself to them.

Jesus could easily have done anything these men requested of Him.  But that wasn’t really the point being pushed.  They refused to believe in Jesus, refused to hear His teachings, and refused to give Him any credibility, because all of that would have the potential to undermine their own authority.  They didn’t want Him to actually perform a miraculous sign; they wanted Him to fail to do a sign so that they could write Him off.  Or they wanted Him to refuse to do a sign so that they could spin it to mean that He wouldn’t because He couldn’t.

But Jesus wasn’t into playing games with these men, or allowing them to control the agenda by making Him jump to their tune.  He had His agenda straight from God Himself, and it was both important and urgent.  He would not allow Himself to be distracted by His enemies.  Besides, if they wouldn’t believe on the basis of the miracles He had already done, one more wouldn’t convince them.

So He refused.  Or, more correctly, He used a parable to show them their own obtuseness.  They had learned over the years to know what the weather would be by the signs in the sky, because they had seen numerous red skies at night and experienced a pleasant day the next day.  They had seen red, angry looking skies in the morning, and had slogged through storms before the day was over.  Past performance assured them of future results.

But they refused to apply the same standards to Jesus.  They knew from direct observation, as well as the testimonies of others, that Jesus was able to do astounding miracles, many of them every day.  There was no illness or disability that He had not been able to heal, no demon he had been unable to cast out, no crowd he was unable to feed.  He even calmed storms with a word, and walked on water!  But they always demanded one more sign, in the hopes that He might fail THIS time.  They were unwilling to accept any of His past performance.

The sign of Jonah, which Jesus promised them that they WOULD see, was His rising from the dead on the third day (cf. Matthew 12:40).  There is also a sense in which Jonah himself was a sign to the Ninevites after his “resurrection” from the belly of the great fish.  He came from that experience in the power of God with a demand for repentance, and a threat of destruction for those who refused (cf. Luke 11:29-32).  Jesus was warning that if these men refused to believe His message, especially after His resurrection, the same kind of destruction awaited them (and was actually delivered in AD 70!).

Father, help us to always give ourselves to You and to Your agenda fully, with no reservations, and without demanding any “signs” before we will take You at Your word.  You have already done more than enough for us in our past to enable us to rely on You for our future.  Help us instead to be a testimony to others as each day we trust in You, and allow You to work through us.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 26, 2017

Matthew 15:32-39 (NIV) Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground.  Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied.  Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children.  After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.

The whole situation should have seemed familiar to the disciples:  a large, hungry crowd, almost no resources, and Jesus’ insistence that they solve the problem.  Jesus’ motive in using this situation was to test His key followers to see if they could follow His previous example in this extremely similar situation. (Matthew 14:15-21)

But, again, the disciples proved to be slow learners.  All they could see was the size of the crowd and what they DIDN’T have.

With a sigh of frustration, Jesus turned their attention to what they DID have:  seven loaves, and a few small fish – almost half again what they had had just a few weeks earlier.  But the disciples still didn’t get it.  They just kept shifting their attention from the sparse supplies to the huge crowd and back again.

So, once again, Jesus took control of the situation.  His procedure was intentionally identical to what He had done before; a model for the disciples to follow.  He instructed the people to sit down.  He gave thanks for the available resources, and then broke the food and gave it to the disciples to distribute.  And after everyone had eaten all that they wanted, He sent them to pick up the leftovers:  7 large baskets full.

A big part of the disciples’ reluctance was that, even though they had seen Jesus do this before, they did not see themselves as having that same kind of power in themselves.  Even though they themselves had cast out demons and healed diseases with Jesus’ authority, this kind of thing seemed different; more like magic.  And they saw themselves as being without that kind of magical power.

But Jesus was trying to show them that it was not magical power, but a direct connection to the Father that enabled these amazing miraculous signs.  He was trying to teach them that they had the same opportunity to have a direct connection to God.  They had the same ability, in Jesus’ name, to have the same power of God flow through them (cf. John16:23-27).  But they didn’t get it.  Yet.

Father, even today we are slow to believe all that Jesus taught was available to us as His followers.  We know that Jesus could do amazing things, but we somehow believe that the power Jesus had was qualitatively and quantitatively different than the power we can access.  We fail to see that the power is exactly the same, because the source of the power is exactly the same:  You.  We don’t do miracles, not because we can’t, but because we don’t believe that we can.  We lead powerless lives, because we believe that the wonder working power that Jesus demonstrated was for Him and not for us.  We make fun of the lack of faith of these disciples, and shake our heads in wonder at their slowness to catch on.  But we are exactly as slow as they were!  Forgive us this hypocrisy, and help us to learn this lesson well, so that we can operate in Your power, at Your direction, every day.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 25, 2017

Matthew 15:29-31 (NIV) Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.  The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

The people, great crowds of them, brought their sick and infirm to Jesus.  But these were not people of great faith, only people of hope.  They had heard that Jesus could heal any disease and disability, even things like demon possession and leprosy.  So they brought their friends and family members to Him to see what He could do.

Jesus could have looked at these people, saw their lack of strong faith in Him, and written them off as mere seekers after miracles.  This event could have had the same ending as His trip back to Nazareth:  “And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:58)  But Jesus saw past their lack of faith to their hope.  That was an adequate place to start.  Some of them would have faith spring to life in their hearts when their loved ones were healed.

And so He spoke, He touched, He commanded, and the healings happened.  The blind could suddenly see, and faith replace mere hope in a heart.  A lame man stood and walked, and another spot of faith flamed to life.  A mute began to speak clearly, and faith lit a fire in once dull eyes.  All were amazed at what Jesus could do, but many were filled with a restored faith, not just in Jesus, but in the God of Israel for what He was accomplishing through Him.

The excitement of the crowd was palpable and contagious.  No one wanted to miss what Jesus would do next.  And when he taught them about the kingdom of God (which He ALWAYS did), they hung on His every word.  Hours turned into days, and three days later, many were still there, excited to see what Jesus would do next, and to hear what He would teach.

Father, theology and Bible teaching are not boring, but exciting when the one teaching them embodies the power depicted in them.  People really do hang on the words of someone that Your power is working through.  Help me to be one of those people, today and every day.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 24, 2017

Matthew 15:25-28 (NIV) The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

The woman heard Jesus’ reason for refusing to help her with her demon-possessed daughter:  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  But her situation was so desperate that she couldn’t let it go.  She cried out again for help.

Jesus’ answer sounds unbelievably harsh to our ears, accustomed as they are to listening predominantly to Jesus’ gentle words, and filtering out those we deem too strong based our prejudiced view that our kind and loving Jesus couldn’t possibly say anything so strong and harsh.  But Matthew captured His exact words for us:  “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

Dogs were considered unclean animals, and the New Testament used the imagery of dogs on occasion to refer to those who were outside of the kingdom of God.  (E.g., Matthew 7:6; 2 Peter 2:22.)  But in those other instances, the Greek word used is the generic word for dog, “kyon”  In this case, however, Jesus, who was speaking Greek to this Phoenician woman who wouldn’t speak much if any Aramaic, specifically chose a different word with a specific shade of meaning.  That word was “kymarion,” which has more the flavor of a pet dog.

That slight shift in meaning, away from the word that often depicted wild dogs that roamed in packs and attacked sheep, to a more gentle word with shades of affection, gave the woman exactly the opening that she needed.  “Yes, Lord, but even the (pet) dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

This woman knew that she had no claim on Jesus, neither tie of religion nor nationality.  But she played her last card on the basis of that one word, and on something that she saw in Jesus, something in His eyes that convinced her that He really did care about weak and helpless things, as she surely was in the face of the demons besetting her daughter.

With a quiet chuckle, Jesus assured her that her faith and perseverance had won Him over.  He daughter had already been set free.  And, when the woman arrived at her house, she found it to be so.

Father, sometimes we give up far too easily.  We make our requests once, and if they are not granted immediately, we shrug our spiritual shoulders, and go off to find an answer elsewhere.  We can learn a lesson from this woman.  She cared so deeply about what she brought to Jesus that she would not let go of Him until she received the blessing she so needed.  She kept on asking, seeking, and knocking, looking for the key to Jesus’ heart, until her prayers were answered (cf. Matthew 7:7-11).  Thank You for this lesson.  Amen.

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