Today’s Scripture – October 4, 2017

Luke 9:18-20 (NIV) Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered,
“The Christ of God.”

The time was drawing near for Jesus to finish His work on earth and return to heaven. He had healed thousands, had set hundreds free from demon possession, and had worked tirelessly to tell everyone He had contact with about the reality of the kingdom of God.

But He had not publicly claimed to be the Messiah, except to a very few, and those predominantly in private situations away from the crowds. The word “Messiah” had grown so many meanings in the minds and hearts of the Jewish people, many of them with strictly political overtones, that Jesus didn’t want His claim on that title to be tainted by those views. So He had not yet claimed that title for Himself, preferring the title “Son of Man,” which had messianic implications without the political overtones.

But with the approach of His suffering, death, and resurrection so near, He needed to know if His closest followers, at least, had connected the dots. So He asked the question, beginning with the less threatening, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

The disciples had been among the people in the crowds as Jesus worked, so they had heard the speculation: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the ancient prophets, the same list of opinions that had gotten back to Herod (Luke 9:7-8). Jesus smiled. All of those guesses were in the ballpark, but so far off from home plate.

Then Jesus asked the disciples, the Twelve, who they believed Him to be. At this stage of the game it really didn’t matter who the crowds thought Jesus was. But if His own followers hadn’t come to the right conclusion, that was serious.

Peter acted as the spokesperson for the group: “You are the Messiah of God.” (“Christ” is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Messiah.” Both mean “anointed one.”) The rest of the disciples nodded in agreement. They had reached the same conclusion. Jesus was greatly relieved; they had figured it out!

Father, the early disciples figured out this truth after living with, traveling with, and serving alongside Jesus. But we, Your people of today, need to know this truth ourselves. There is no room in the Church for a purely human Jesus, a good man, a gifted teacher. Instead, we must know and clearly proclaim the scriptural truth that Jesus is the living Son of God, the Messiah who came to earth to die for us, to rise and defeat death, and to save us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 3, 2017

Luke 9:12-17 (NIV) Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish–unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

The disciples had compassionate hearts that legitimately cared about the needs of these people out in the wilderness. But as far as solutions were concerned, they were seeing with earthly eyes, and that severely limited them.

Keep in mind that these twelve men had just experienced several weeks of living on God’s provision. But that provision had always come through people in the towns in which they had proclaimed the gospel. There were no houses or shops out here, so they put this need in a different category – one in which they could depend on only earthly solutions.

They decided among themselves that the best solution was to send the people home, so that they could find some food for themselves in the houses and towns along the way. But Jesus’ solution was for the apostles to feed this hungry crowds of thousands themselves.

Taking quick stock, they found that they could come up with five loaves of bread and two small, smoked fish, the spoils of a young boys food supply (John 6:9). But, compared to the need, this seemed pitifully inadequate.

Since the disciples seemed unable to connect the dots, Jesus seized the opportunity as a teachable moment. He gave the twelve disciples tasks to do: first, have the people sit down in groups of fifty; then, after He had blessed the food, keep distributing it to the people until everyone had had enough; and finally, gather up the twelve baskets full of leftovers.

Notice that Jesus did not pray that the food would be multiplied to feed all of those people. The prayer that He prayed was the traditional barakah, or thanksgiving, that the Jewish people prayed before their meals. It is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for what God has already provided, not a prayer looking for more. Jesus knew that the Father had already determined that He would feed all of the people with the scant provisions available, just as He had promised. So, in faith and trust, Jesus thanked the Father for His adequate provision, and then directed the disciples to start distributing the food.

Father, all too often we are just like those apostles, seeing the enormity of the needs, and the paucity of our resources. You have promised to provide for our every legitimate need, if we will seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness (Matthew 6:33), just as Jesus did. Help me in every situation to never determine what is possible based on my resources, but to listen carefully while You tell me what is possible with Yours. Then help me to move forward with faith, trust, and thanksgiving for what You have promised, and what You will surely do. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 2, 2017

Luke 9:10-11 (NIV) When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.

The apostles returned to Jesus full of news about the various missions that they had been on. They had each experienced God’s blessings, God’s provision, and God’s power for ministry as they went out in obedience to Jesus’ commission. But Jesus was so overrun by needy people who were crowding around Him, that they had no chance to share.

So Jesus loaded them all into a boat (Mark 6:32) to go off for some quiet time, where they could wind down away from the crowds, and be able to share their experiences. It was a great strategy, but it didn’t work out exactly as planned.

When they got to their destination, they found that there were thousands of people there waiting for them. The people had seen Jesus and the disciples in the boat, and had been able to determine where they were headed and beat them there. At that point, Jesus had three broad actions that He could take. He could simply put back out to sea and find another place to land. He could send the people away, berating them for barging into a personal retreat. Or He could set aside His own agenda, and that of His disciples, and minister to the crowd.

It’s no surprise that Jesus chose the third alternative. And it’s no surprise that He did it without grumbling or complaining. He welcomed the people graciously, as if they were His sole agenda. He taught them about the kingdom of God. And He healed all who were sick. Those people, far from being an interruption to His agenda, were the very reason that He had come into the world. That was a vital lesson for His disciples, both then and now.

Father, it is easy to mistake our agenda. We can easily get to thinking that our agenda is church work, or social work, or, especially for pastors, study and preaching. And we can easily resent people whose presence interferes with those agendas. But we need to take a lesson from Jesus. His agenda is our agenda: telling people about the kingdom of God, and helping them to find the physical, emotional, and spiritual wholeness and freedom that spring from that reality. Thank You for this lesson. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 1, 2017

Luke 9:7-9 (NIV) Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.

Guilt does strange things to the minds and hearts of people. Unlike his father, this Herod had a conscience, and his conscience was really bothering him. He had had John beheaded, and had been eaten up with guilt ever since.

Speculation about who Jesus was running rampant at that time. The speculations ran the gamut from Him being Elijah, who was prophesied to be the forerunner of the Messiah Himself (Malachi 4:5-6), to His being some other of the great prophets who had risen from the dead. In people’s minds, those identities would help to explain the amazing miracles that Jesus was doing.

But the opinion that filled Herod’s heart with fear and dread was that Jesus was in fact John the Baptist, risen from the dead. When He was alive, John had strongly and publicly denounced Herod’s marriage to His brother’s former wife, in disobedience to the clear requirements of the law. If he had really risen from the dead, how harsh would his denouncement of Herod be for beheading him!

So, from that moment, Herod determined that he had to see Jesus to see for himself whether or not this was really John. If it was, he would have to figure out some kind of strategy to deal with the potential fallout. If he wasn’t, it would be fascinating to see Him do a miracle or two!

Father, it is a terrible thing to be consumed by guilt that way. But we have a solution to guilt for the sins that we have committed, a solution that Herod never took advantage of: salvation and real forgiveness through faith in Jesus. Herod wanted to see Jesus to be sure of His identity, and maybe see a miracle. But when I came to Jesus, it was because of a heavy load of sin that was weighing my heart down. How amazing to be forgiven, to know the relief from guilt that only complete forgiveness can bring. Thank you! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 29, 2017

Luke 9:1-6 (NIV) When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.

There was much work to be done .Many people still had not heard the good news of the kingdom, and seen the positive signs of its arrival. Jesus could only be in one place at a time, and time was passing quickly.

So He called His closest disciples together, empowered them, gave them authority, and sent them out to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, and to demonstrate its reality through miracles and casting out demons. It is important to note that these twelve men were given this power and authority by Jesus. Without these gifts, they would not have been effective as witnesses of the kingdom. A powerless Christianity does not show the reality of God’s kingdom to non-believers.

Far from being merely a test run for their future ministry, this assignment was the real deal. The apostles (“sent ones”) were to go as Jesus Himself was going, taking nothing for the journey but the clothes on their backs. This would make them completely dependent on God, not just for the power and authority that they would need, but for their sustenance as well. Jesus told them that, in every place that He was sending them, they were to look for a person who would welcome them into his or her home and provide for them. If they could not find anyone in a town who would welcome them, they were to simply leave, shaking the dust of the town off of their feet as a sign of God’s own judgment against them.

The amazing thing is that the disciples obeyed Jesus to the letter. They went from village to village, proclaiming the reality of God’s kingdom in each place, freeing people from demons and diseases, and experiencing God’s abundant provision everyplace that they went. They were faithful to God’s call on their lives, and in return, God was faithful to provide everything that they needed, both physically and spiritually.

Father, this is so clear, so simple: You provided everything that those sent by Jesus needed. But it is also clear that You didn’t provide first, before they started. It was only as they were in the midst of the mission that You had assigned to them that You provided all that they needed. Help me to be faithful as well, actively about the work to which You have called me, so that I, too, can experience all of Your provision for me. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 28, 2017

Luke 8:51-56 (NIV) When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.” They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.
But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

Jesus often made pronouncements based on spiritual reality that seemed like foolishness to those whose eyes were only focused on physical realities. In this case, when Jesus and His party neared Jairus’ house, they could hear the wailing and sobbing of those mourning the death of this twelve-year-old girl. That was the physical reality.

But Jesus knew what He was going to do for this girl. He saw a reality that was hidden from the tear-blurred eyes of the family and friends. So He told them “She is not dead but asleep.” That was the spiritual reality. He was not telling them that she wasn’t really physically dead – she was, and the evidence of her death was so incontrovertible that everyone laughed at Him in response. He was trying to tell them that the girl’s current state was only temporary, that she would soon be “awakened” to life. (He used this same figure of speech when He talked to His disciples about Lazarus – that he had “fallen asleep,” and that Jesus was going to “wake Him up” (John 11:11). He then had to explain that He had meant that Lazarus had died (verse 14).)

But the people in Jairus’ house were blind to the spiritual reality. Their blindness didn’t discourage Jesus – they would all see the truth soon enough. He simply walked over to the bed where the girl lay, took her by the hand, and shouted, as if to one in deep sleep, “My child, get up!” Immediately, the girl took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Jesus helped her to sit up, and ordered her family to give her something to eat.

The family was obviously flabbergasted. They were sure that she had died. But they couldn’t deny the fact that she was now alive, and, as far as they could see, she had no trace of the fever that had killed her; she was completely healthy and strong.

Jesus swore them all to secrecy, not to keep the Father from getting glory, but to prevent Him from being mobbed in the future by crowds of people bringing corpses to Him to be resurrected. Physical death is the normal end for all mankind, and Jesus did very few resurrections. Those He did do were done as specific signs, and they were temporary; all of those raised to life would die again. Only Jesus rose from the dead never to die again, the first fruits of all those who will rise at the last day, incorruptible forever.

Father, spiritual reality always trumps physical reality. If You make a pronouncement, whether it is that a disease is healed, a sin is forgiven, or even that a death is temporary, that is the reality, and we need to take You at Your word, and move forward in faith. Help me, Lord, to keep my eyes and ears open to You and Your word as You speak wonders to me, that I can then share with others. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 27, 2017

Luke 8:49-50 (NIV) While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher any more.”
Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

In any other circumstance, the words, “Your daughter is dead” would signal the end of all hope. Jairus knew and trusted that Jesus could heal any disease that was brought to Him. He had come to fetch Jesus back to his house in the hope that He would get there before the life had gone out of his daughter. But once she died, he figured that there was no hope left for a healing.

Jesus watched Jairus’ whole frame sag in despair as he heard the news. But Jesus knew that, at least as far as He was concerned, death was not the end of hope. Death did not put the insuperable barrier in front of Jesus that it might have put in front of others. Just a few weeks earlier, He had called back to life the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), and this situation was no more challenging than that one had been.

Jesu’s words to Jairus were carefully chosen: “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” Don’t let doubt squash out your faith. You came to Me believing that I can help, and I still can. Keep hold of your faith, your belief in Me. The opportunity for healing has not passed yet, because I am going with you.

In all of this, Jesus was listening to the Father, and the Father was telling Him to keep moving forward in this mission. There was much more that He wanted to do. So, with Jesus’ hand on his shoulder, a very troubled and confused Jairus started again toward home, holding tightly to both his faith in Jesus, and the ray of hope that He was holding out.

Father, how easy it is to lose hope when news comes in that says that things aren’t going as we had hoped. But in those times, we, as Your people, need to turn again to You, and listen to what You have to say. How often we have given up halfway there, because of a change in the situation, when the whole time You were saying, “Don’t be afraid; just believe!” But we didn’t listen to You, because we had heard “the news.” Lord, help me to always listen intently to You, both before I make my plans, and as I work to accomplish them. Let Your word always be the last word, so that I not only stay in step with You, but so that I never lose hope while You are still working. Amen.

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