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Today’s Scripture – December 17, 2017

Luke 11:47-51 (NIV) “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.”

For all of the public righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, their private actions, which God saw clearly, and which Jesus knew, betrayed their corrupted hearts, which Jesus compared to the bones of dead men in whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27).

The history of Israel was replete with the leaders of the people killing and persecuting the prophets that God sent to them. These men and women were sent to warn them away from the precipices that lay before them, death disease, captivity, before it was too late and the people had to face God’s judgment. But instead of listening to God’s voice, they killed and harassed His messengers, and this made them even more worthy of God’s judgment.

Jesus’ inclusion of two specific martyrs, righteous Abel, murdered by his evil brother, Cain, the first murder victim in history and in the Scriptures (Genesis 4:1-8), and Zechariah, the son of Jehoiadah, murdered in the temple complex by the apostate king Joash (2 Chronicles 24:20-22), is significant. In the Jewish Scriptures, the order of the books is different than in the Christian Old Testament. In the Jewish order of books, Genesis is the first book, and Second Chronicles the last., Thus those two martyrs form a set of bookends, the first martyr in the Old Testament and the last, symbolic of every martyr in between.

Jesus knew that this generation of scholars and leaders would soon be plotting and carrying out His own murder, the murder of the very Son of God, the ultimate martyr. Thus, in that one act, they would bring on themselves the guilt of all of their forefathers who had killed God’s messengers before them, capping off a family tradition of the supposed righteous killing of the genuinely righteous, and making themselves liable to a final exile and destruction of their city and their temple. In those words, Jesus was acting as God’s prophet, warning His people one final time of the precipice that was gaping ahead of them, directly on the path that they were intent on taking. But sadly, tragically, He knew that they would not turn before it was too late, before their own inertia carried them over the edge and into the abyss.

Father, the greatest tragedy in all of this is that You always warned Your people, often in many different ways. But Your people refused to listen, often persecuting or even killing Your messengers in the process, thus sealing their doom. And Your Scriptures, Your Holy Spirit, and Your anointed prophets still speak today. Help us to never turn away from Your message that probes our hearts and shows us where we need to repent, but instead to yield ourselves to You completely, so that we can be forgiven and start anew. Amen.


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Today’s Scripture – July 13, 2017

Luke 4:22-30 (NIV) All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'”
“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed–only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

The people in the synagogue couldn’t believe how well Jesus preached. (His sermon went on much longer than the simple declaration, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” That was just the opening line of His full sermon.) They had known Jesus since He was a baby. He was a good kid, polite, and smart, too. But what He was displaying now, this wisdom, this depth of understanding of the Scriptures, this ability to communicate, seemed like something entirely different; something that they had never seen in Him before.

Jesus knew that they had heard about the miracles that He had been doing, especially those He had done in Capernaum, His new home base. And He knew that they were eager to see Him do something amazing here in His own hometown. But He also knew that these people who knew Him best would be least willing to truly accept Him as the Messiah. Familiarity really does breed contempt.

In fact, at least some of these people were more than a little irritated at Jesus for making Capernaum His home base and doing all of those miracles there instead of doing them in Nazareth, His home town. After all, they had a prior claim on Him.

But Jesus pointed out from history that even the prophets of old were not received by their own people, and so did their wonders elsewhere, and for other people. Elijah, during the time of the great famine, was a persona non grata in Israel. In fact, he had a price on his head! So the miracle that he performed helped a gentile woman. A few years later, Elisha and his words were rejected by the kings of Israel, but he cleansed Naaman the Syrian, another gentile, of leprosy.

Jesus’ point was not that God only helps gentiles instead of His own people, but that it is difficult for a prophet of God to find acceptance among those who knew them before they began to fulfill God’s calling on their lives. It is just easier to perform that calling among strangers, so Jesus had set up His base in Capernaum, and had been preaching to people who didn’t have a history with Him.

As if to prove His point, the people of Nazareth grew so angry with Jesus that they rushed Him and tried to throw Him off a cliff! It was really ironic, but they couldn’t see the irony: “How dare He say that we won’t accept Him. We should kill Him for saying that!” But none of this took Jesus by surprise. He let them take Him as far as the edge of the cliff, then calmly walked right through the crowd and out of town, leaving everyone wondering what had just happened.

Father, You can call anyone at any time for any purpose. And sometimes who You call may surprise us. But it is not up to us to approve or disapprove of Your choices. I know that many were surprised when You called me into Your service. Thankfully my clearly transformed life was testimony enough to show the validity of that calling. Help us to extend the same acceptance to those who show a genuine divine calling on their lives as we would want extended to us when You put a call on our lives. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 14, 2017

Luke 1:76-80 (NIV) And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.

When Zechariah had thought of having a son, he dreamed of a son who would take up the “family business’ and succeed him as a priest of God. But ever since the angel Gabriel had announced John’s conception and birth, his mind was filled with a different vision: John would become a prophet, like the priests Isaiah and Jeremiah. Zechariah knew that a prophet, one whom God used to speak to His people, was an even higher calling than that of priest, and rejoiced that his son would be someone who would be that important in God’s plans.

He could already see that John would go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of the prophecy in Micah 4:5-6, to prepare the hearts of the people for the soon-to-follow Messiah. This was essential, but would be challenging because too many of God’s people were content with the status quo. They were comfortable living out lives that included Him in theory, but in which He was only really a factor on the holy days, or when they were in trouble.

John’s job would be to hold up the mirror of God’s standards, of His word, to their lives, helping them to see that, instead of being at the center of their lives, God had become a bit player, an add-on, and that without a vital, ongoing, 24/7 relationship with Him, they were just as lost as the pagans at whom they sneered.

But it was not just a message of condemnation that John would bring. It would also be a message of hope laced with warning. Hope because the Messiah was coming to show them the way of salvation. And warning because if the people refused to repent and get ready for Him, they would find themselves under His judgment instead of His blessing.

Zechariah knew that all of this was happening because God was keeping the promises He had made to His people centuries before. The time had finally come.

As John grew into strong, early adulthood, God drew him out into the wilderness to spend quality time with Him, to teach him complete dependence on Him for his every need, and to teach him all that he would need to know when the time came for him to begin his mission.

Father, Your plans are always perfect, always perfectly designed to accomplish what You intend for them, including the people whom You choose to play pivotal roles. Help me to faithfully do what You, in Your wisdom, have laid out as my role in Your plan, so that I never become a blockage that You need to work around to accomplish what You want to do. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 18, 2016

Matthew 11:7-15 (NIV) As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see?  A reed swayed by the wind?  If not, what did you go out to see?  A man dressed in fine clothes?  No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.  Then what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.  For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.  He who has ears, let him hear.”

John the Baptist was held in high regard by all the lay people of Jesus’ day.  The religious elite didn’t think much of him because he was outside the mainstream.  His clothing, his demeanor, and his tell-it-like-it-is speech was very off-putting to people who prided themselves on their meticulous religious observance and their self-made holiness.

The common people accepted John as a prophet after the mold of Elijah, and he was indeed that.  But Jesus identified more about John’s relation to Elijah than just his clothes and his fire-breathing sermon style.  The prophet Malachi had foretold a messenger who would be sent before God Himself visited His people (Malachi 3:1).  At the end of his prophecies, Malachi identified this messenger as Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6) – not a reincarnation, but a messenger who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah, who would precede the Messiah, and prepare God’s people for His arrival (cf. Luke 1:17).

Jesus identified John as the greatest man born up to that time, but then He throws a curve ball:  “Yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  John was the last of a breed, the full-blooded, sold-out, Old Testament prophet.  And with him that line would end on a definite high note, to be replaced by a new breed of God-follower:  the blood-bought, Spirit-filled, saved-by-grace disciple who would not only be able to speak God’s truths, as John did, but who would literally be able to change the world one soul at a time.

John foretold the coming of God’s kingdom (cf. Matthew 3:2), but with Jesus’ appearing, the kingdom became real.  And ever since that day, God’s kingdom had been advancing, pushing forward, bringing light into the dark places of Jewish society.  And Jesus had been joined by a group of men who were actively working in His authority to push the kingdom forward.

It is vital that we remember that when Jesus showed up, everything changed.  Jesus was not about reviving a hide-bound Judaism.  He was about instituting a whole new thing:  the world-transforming kingdom of God.  John did his job, and did it well.  But he actually appeared to ring out his generation of believers, and to ring in a whole new thing:  a new breed of people, purified by blood and fire, who would move forward in the power of the Holy Spirit to change the world.

Father, You have left me speechless!  We are so much less than what Jesus came to enable us to be.  Forgive us, Lord, and help us to recalibrate what we believe is possible for us according to Your vision of who we are to be.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 24, 2015

John 4:16-19 (NIV):  (Jesus) told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.

Jesus’ command for the woman to go and get her husband was an effort to turn the conversation in a different direction.  He already knew her history, as well as all that was in her heart (cf. John 2:25), so He was speaking from knowledge of her situation, not from ignorance.

This woman, as she freely admitted, currently had no husband.  She had had five husbands up to that point in time.  Jesus’ insight and the woman’s response gives no clue as to whether she was divorced five times (the usual teaching these days), or if some of her husbands had died, leaving her to remarry (at least possible for some of them).  But the central fact was that this woman’s heart had taken a beating over the years.  Five times she had given her body and heart to another, and five times it was broken, whether by death or divorce.

Jesus’ statement that “the man you now have is not your husband,” can be taken a couple of ways.  It was unlikely for a woman to be living with a man out of wedlock back then (whatever form marriage had in that society), even in Samaria, but is not entirely impossible.  But Jesus’ statement could have meant no more than that a man was courting her, and may have even proposed marriage to her, but the marriage had either not taken place yet, or she was putting him off, afraid to give herself a sixth time and risk having her heart broken again.

Whatever the situation was, the precision of Jesus’ insights blew the woman away completely.  Up to this point, Jesus had been nothing more to her than “a Jew” (verse 9) who made strange requests and puzzling proclamations.  But now some of His strangeness seemed to slip into focus.  He must be a prophet!  How else could He know all of these things about her?  In all of the old stories, prophets were depicted as strange men who spoke from God many things that were hard for people to understand.  This man certainly fit that pattern!

And so this woman took the first step toward this man who now appeared to be so much more than He had seemed at first.  There were still more steps that she needed to take, but the journey had begun!

Father, everyone’s journey into relationship with Jesus must begin with the realization that He is more than just a man.  So many today are not willing to take that step, insisting that Jesus never claimed to be more than a human being.  They admit that He might be an unusually good man, a great ethicist and teacher, but still believe that He was merely human, like Plato or Aristotle.  In their minds, there is no room for a divine Jesus.  They have to be moved so that they can take that first step, to at least acknowledge that the words Jesus spoke were far beyond anything that could have come from a mere human brain.  If they can, like this woman, acknowledge that He must have been at least a prophet whose words came from You, that is a step in the right direction.  Thank You for this insight.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 13, 2014

Mark 11:12-14 (NIV): The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Many point to this event as showing Jesus being peevish and even unreasonable. After all, it was too early in the year for figs, being barely into April. The leaves would be out on the fig trees, but no fruit yet. So why would Jesus curse a tree that seemed perfectly normal, just because He looked for fruit and was disappointed?

Jesus never did anything without a clear reason, and He was never peevish or unreasonable. Instead, He was painting a picture for His disciples, much like the prophets of old. (cf., Ezekiel 12:1-14; Jeremiah 19:1-15) Jesus was hungry, just like the world was hungry for the truth of the Lord.       Jesus went to a fig tree for food, just as the people of the world looked to the Jewish people to hear God’s word.       (After all, they claimed to be “God’s chosen people,” didn’t they?) But Jesus found only leaves – all show and no substance. And that is what the world found when they looked for God’s truth among the leaders of the Jewish religion – all show and no substance. They did a lot of showy things, like making their sacrifices by the hundreds and thousands every day, and all of their rituals and celebrations. But when the people looked beneath the leaves, the “show,” they found no real fruit; no people with a powerful relationship with God Almighty.

In Jesus’ final act here, the cursing of the fig tree for its fruitlessness, He was speaking for God the Father. Just as the tree was cursed to never bear fruit again, so God had pronounced judgment on the religious leaders of Israel: that they would be fruitless. God was even preparing at that moment to remove the “show,” their temple, their sacrifices, and all of their grand celebrations in Jerusalem. (That removal would happen in AD 70, when the Romans would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple.) God was planning on doing this because the leadership of the Jewish people were, at that moment, plotting against Jesus, to take His life. And a plot against Jesus is always a plot against God the Father.

That is not to say that all of the Jewish people had rejected God and His Messiah, or that everyone among them was under that same curse (just as every fig tree in the area was not cursed by Jesus). The curse was for those who had rejected God by rejecting Jesus. It fell on those whose religion was only an outward show, and who were so confident in their own righteousness that they rejected the One God had sent to save them from their sins.

Father, this makes sense. It is easy to see that much of the leadership rejected Jesus, falsely accusing Him before Pilate, and even threw You under the bus in the process (“We have no king but Caesar!” John 19:15)! They bribed the guards to lie about Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:11-15), and the whole time celebrated the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread with what they believed were clean hands. They really were whitewashed tombs, and trees with showy leaves but no fruit! Father, help us to never fall into that same trap. Help us to keep our hearts open and soft before You, so that You can help us to bear abundant fruit, day and night, every day of the year (cf. Revelation 22:2; Psalm 1:3). Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 13, 2014

Mark 8:27-30 (NIV): Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus’ time was growing short, and it was just about time for Him to start heading to Jerusalem for the last few scenes of His life. By this time He had invested about three years into the lives of His closest followers, and He was disturbed that they had shown so little growth in their understanding of Him and of the kingdom which He had inaugurated, and which He would soon leave in their hands.

Jesus knew that there were diverse opinions as to who He really was, so He started this critical conversation with a “soft ball” question: “Who do people say I am?”

Many people believed that Jesus was John the Baptizer raised from the dead. This opinion was most prevalent among those who had not seen John, but had merely heard about him. Jesus’ message of repentance and the kingdom of God was similar to John’s, and people saw his miraculous restoration to life as a reasonable explanation as to why Jesus Himself was able to do miracles.

Others believed that Jesus was the great prophet Elijah. The Jewish people had been awaiting the Messiah for centuries, but they believed (based on Scriptures like Malachi 4:5-6) that Elijah would reappear first to prepare God’s people for His coming. Elijah had done a few impressive miracles, so Jesus’ miraculous abilities seemed like reasonable evidence that He was, in fact, Elijah, and that the Messiah must be near.

Still others saw Jesus as a mighty prophet, like those written about in the Old Testament.       Prophets were not always foretellers of the future. Rather they were spokespeople for God. And some of them, like Moses, and Elijah, and even Isaiah, did miracles. It had been more than 400 years since a mighty prophet had arisen,. So many saw Jesus as a spokesman for God, a mighty prophet who would help them to know how God wanted them to live.

Then Jesus asked the critical question: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter acted as spokesman for the group when he answered: “You are the Christ (the Messiah).”

Jesus’ disciples knew that He wasn’t John the Baptizer. They had been with Jesus while John was still in prison, and several of the them had originally been followers of John. Besides, they had seen that Jesus was far above John in every way. As John himself had said, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” (Mark 1:7 NIV) They knew that He was not Elijah come to earth again. He had done things far greater than Elijah had ever dreamed of doing.   And they knew that He was not merely a prophet, even a great prophet. Jesus spoke and acted with all of the authority of God Himself; not like one with delegated authority, but as if He were God in the flesh.

To the disciples there was only one logical answer to the question: Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. He was the long-promised deliverer who would save them and set all things right.   They had seen His power at work, they had listened to His teachings, and there was no doubt at all in their minds that He was the One.

Jesus was relieved. It wasn’t all that He hoped for at this point, but it was a step in the right direction.   However, He swore them to silence, because most people (the disciples included) had a distorted view of the Messiah in their minds. They saw Him as a political deliverer; one who would set up an earthly kingdom and a new dynasty of Davidic kings. But He still had a few weeks to help them to understand.

Father, people still have varied ideas as to who Jesus is. Some see Him as a good man, a great teacher, perhaps even a prophet.   But He clearly declared Himself to be the Messiah, the Savior, the very son of God. Help us to know Him for who He really is, so that we can clearly show Him to others. Amen.

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