Monday, August 31, 2015

To how many families do you Belong?

Read Mark 3.

The three-year ministry of Jesus appears to be nearly non-stop.  In Mark's gospel, He quickly moves from preaching to healing to selecting the twelve apostles.  Going back home to Nazareth presented a new challenge.  Later in Mark 6:4, Jesus said, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household."

The crowds kept gathering and pressing in to hear Jesus and to receive healing.  It became so intense "that they could not even eat" (v.20).  Some came to the conclusion He was "out of his mind" (v.21).  So, His earthly family came to "seize him" and rescue Him from the crowds.  They thought someone must do this so Jesus may eat and rest.  It seemed like a noble effort.

Upon being told that His mother and His brothers were standing outside the house and wanted to see Him, Jesus asked, "Who are my mother and my brothers?"  This was not meant to offend His earthly family but to emphasize the importance and priority of why He was there.

Everyone belongs to two families.
1. Physical Family.
A mother and a father are required to reproduce, as established by God.  The development and design of each individual is superintended by God long before the day of one's birth.  "I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." (Psalm 139:14-16)

2. Human Family.
There is a real and Biblical sense that everyone on earth is a part of the same family and not related at all to anything else in creation.  Humans are a special creation in God's image (Genesis 1) with a body, soul, and a spirit.  The Apostle Paul wrote, "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named..." (Ephesians 3:14-15).  The concept of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man may be found here.

But not everyone is a member of God's third family.
3. Spiritual Family.
Jesus answered His own question in Mark 3:35: "For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."  John 1:12-13 explains how to become a member of this family.  "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."  Jesus told Nicodemus, who was a good man and a teacher of the Old Testament, "That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is must be born again." (John 3:5-7).  That spiritual birth through faith in Jesus places one into God's eternal family.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Questioning Jesus and some unexpected Answers

Read Mark 2.

As Jesus began His public ministry, He not only drew crowds of people but He also drew the attention of the Sanhedrin.  At first, the Temple leadership followed Jesus to understand who He was and what He was saying.  When the answers became clear, most of them turned on Him due the hardness of their hearts.

They knew the Scriptures, but the various teachings of famous rabbis and the imposed regulations of the Pharisees were treated with equal weight.  This created an argumentative teaching and learning style among those in positional leadership.  Jesus' teaching was based the Scriptures.  After all, that is His word.  He did not present the opinions of men but taught "with authority" (1:27).

Four of their questions are reported here.
1. "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (v.7)
The theology of the scribes was correct.  Since sin is primarily a spiritual offense against God, only He has the power to forgive them.  Those who say Jesus never claimed to be God have never read the Bible for themselves.  Jesus' response is clear, "But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"....(v.10).  As the angel said to Joseph,  " shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)

2. "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (v.16)
The pride-filled, pious leaders behaved as holier than others due to their positions.  As a result, they pretended to have no spiritual needs.  Meanwhile, those who had been marginalized and rejected in society, such as the tax collectors, were receptive of the message of forgiveness.  You cannot fix something that is not broken.  It is when people admit their brokenness that they become willing to turn to Jesus for help.

3. "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" (v.18)
The Pharisees paraded their spiritual disciplines to be seen by others.  Jesus was feasting instead of fasting.  He echoed the writing of Solomon.  "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: ....a time to weep, and a time to laugh." (Ecclesiastes 2:1 and 4a)  There would come a time for Christ followers to fast but not here,   He referred to Himself as the bridegroom.  This same analogy is used in other places in the New Testament for the Lord, including Revelation 19 at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

4. "Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" (v.24)
For hungry people to eat on the Sabbath was not against the Scriptures.  But the Pharisees saw even plucking the grain to eat was equal to working on the Sabbath.  That was their rule, not God's.  Jesus, then, took the conversation a step further  by declaring that He was the Lord and in charge of even the Sabbath itself!

Mark presents Jesus as the Servant but never does this account lose focus that He is in fact God in the flesh.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A contrasting view of Jesus

Read Mark 1.

Something that becomes immediately apparent in reading just this first chapter is how quickly it moves.  Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels.  And, besides the obvious inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there seems to be a logical reason as well.

Mark contrasts the book of Matthew.  Matthew presents Jesus as the King of Jews.  The first item of business for one who would be king is to establish the right to throne.  Matthew begins with Jesus' royal lineage.  The second item for a king is to establish his authority.  Throughout Matthew's account right to the very last verses, Jesus proves and declares He has "all authority in heaven and on earth."

Mark on the other hand, presents Jesus as the Servant.  Credentials and position are not criteria for one who humbly serves.  Effective action is.  Therefore, Mark skips the birth of Christ and jumps straight to His public appearance.  In a single chapter, we read of Jesus' baptism, temptations, preaching and healing ministry.  It took Matthew seven chapters to relate those same subjects.

This is a quick moving presentation of the life of Christ.  The word translated "immediately" (or a similarly) appears no less than thirty-six times in these sixteen chapters; nine times in chapter one.  The Servant is in a hurry to meet the real needs of people.  A good servant understands, identifies and anticipates the needs of others.

1. Jesus publicly identified with other believers. (vv.9-11)
Baptism is that public identification with God's people.  "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:41)

2. Jesus understands human temptation. (vv.12-13)
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."

3. Jesus offers good news to a condemned human race. (vv.14-15)
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36)

4. Jesus has all power to meet our needs. (vv.21-45)
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The hallmark statement of Jesus in Mark's gospel is found in 10:45.
"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

This same humble attitude of service is the privilege of all those who follow Christ.  "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:5-7)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Just like Jesus Said

Read Matthew 28.

The Old Testament law was clear.  "And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?'--when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken presumptuously.  You need not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).  In fact, false prophets in Israel were subject to the death penalty.

Then, Jesus came.  Throughout the book of Matthew, fulfilled prophecies in the birth and life of Christ are noted.  In His first coming Jesus fulfilled hundreds of them.  But there are hundreds more yet to be completed when He returns.  Those validate the truthfulness of the writing prophets in the Old Testament.  In addition, we have Jesus' own predictions.  Here are a few examples that relate to this chapter.

1. His resurrection. (v.6)
"For just as Jonah was three day and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (12:40)
"From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." (16:21)
"The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him and he will be raised on the third day." (17:22-23)
"And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and delver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day." (20:19)
"But after I am raised up, I will go before you into Galilee." (26:32)

On that Sunday morning after the crucifixion, an angel rolled the stone away from the tomb for all to see.  "He is not here, for he has risen, as he said."

2. His meeting in Galilee. (v.16)
Jesus not only predicted His resurrection but set a post-resurrection meeting place with the disciples.  It did not take place in Jerusalem but in the northern area of Galilee.  He stated this in 26:32.  The angel repeated it in 28:7.  "Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him."

"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him..." 28:16-17).  Just as He said.

3. His return. (v.20b)
Jesus commissioned them to continue the work of making more committed followers and expanding the ministry to all nations.  He promised them His empowering and authoritative presence.  He also promised "I am with you always, to the end of the age."  Jesus encouraged these men prior to the crucifixion with these words:

"Let not your heart be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:1-3)  Jesus will come again.  Just as He said.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What were they thinking about Jesus?

Read Matthew 27.

The religious leaders' sought an occasion to rid themselves of Jesus.  They feared the responses of the people, so they took the steps listed in this chapter under the cover of darkness.  This was in direct violation of the law regarding open court hearings being held in the daytime.  Energized by Satan himself, these, who were supposed to be the nation's spiritual leaders, found themselves knee deep in sin.

What did they know to be true?  And, what were they thinking at the time of their sinful, godless behaviors?

1. Judas  (vv.3-5)
He betrayed Jesus to the Jewish council in the dark Garden of Gethsemane.  Evidently, he never thought that Jesus would actually be condemned to die.  What was he thinking now?  "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood."  His remorse, however, did not lead him to repentance of his sin.

2. Pilate, the governor. (vv. 11-26)
After accommodating the Temple leaders with a hearing of the charges against Jesus, Pilate came to the conclusion that Jesus was innocent.  What was he thinking?  "For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up."  The religious leaders stirred the crowd, perhaps with threats, to chant for the crucifixion of Jesus.  What was Pilate thinking then?  "Why what evil has he done?"

This is a Biblical example that is still true today.  The emotional hysteria of a crowd, motivated by those with their own selfish agendas, can sway others to quickly ignore the facts of a case.  A majority chant does not make right in any case.

What was Pilate thinking at that point?  He publicly and literally washed his hands of the entire business.  Yet, judicially he caved in to the chants and ordered the crucifixion of Jesus.

3. Pilates' wife. (v.19)
What was she thinking?  After being warned in a dream, she urged her husband, "Have nothing to do with that righteous man."

4. The Roman soldiers. (vv.27-31)
600 men, trained and well-known for their cruelty, performed their worst.  What were they thinking?  Jesus was joke to them.  They mocked His claim of being a king.

5. Those at the crucifixion. (vv.32-44)
What were they thinking?  They "derided him", "mocked him", and "reviled him".  They jeered at Jesus using some of His own words.

6. The centurion. (v.54)
When God, the Father, unleashed a series of demonstrations of His power, the evidence was unmistakable to those who wanted to acknowledge the truth.  What was the centurion at the cross thinking?  "Truly this was the Son of God."

7. The chief priests and Pharisees. (vv.62-66)
It is interesting to note that these religious leaders were well aware of Jesus' prediction of His resurrection.  What were they thinking?  Jesus was an "impostor" and a "fraud".  To make sure that this was the end of Jesus, they asked for and received a Roman seal and guard on the tomb.

No one can be neutral in their thinking about Jesus and His claims.  The conclusion a person makes is the difference between eternal life and eternal punishment.  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Who killed Jesus?

Read Matthew 26.

Ever since the time of the crucifixion there have been those who tried to lay blame for killing Jesus.  Some of the earliest writers accused the Jews.  Many have used the statement by the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians as a proof-text.  "For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets..." (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16)   The Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel, hated Jesus because He claimed to be God and the Messiah.  However, they had no power to crucify Him.  They arrested Jesus, falsely accused Him, and, in essence, forced Pilate to do the job.  But it was not all the Jews.  Crucifixion was a Roman means of execution.  So, do we blame the Roman government or both the Jewish leadership and the Romans?

Those are human arguments.  If one would simply read the Scriptures, a third alternative becomes very clear.   Here is the real answer: Jesus said, "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again." ( John 10:17-18)

Jesus was born to die "for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28b).  He ministered for three years and journeyed to Jerusalem right on time, in the exact and eternal plan of God.  He knew and even stated in advance each thing that would happen to Him.  All these were within the Father's will.
"...the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified." (v.2)
"...she has done it to prepare me for burial." (v.12)
"My time is at hand." (v.18)
" of you will betray me." (v.21)
"You will all fall away..." (v.31)
"But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." (v.32)
"...not as I will, but as you will." (v.39)
"...your will be done." (v.42)
"See the hour is at hand." (v.45)
" betrayer is at hand." (v.46)
"But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so." (v.54)
"But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." (v.56)

The truth is that we put Jesus on the cross.  He died and paid for our sins so that we may have forgiveness and eternal life.  "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."  (2 Corinthians 5:21)  What a gracious exchange!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Jesus teaching-prophetic and Practical

.Read Matthew 25.

The twelve asked questions regarding the coming of Jesus at "the end of the age" (24:3).  He described for them a time of unprecedented world-wide turmoil, followed by "great tribulation" to prepare the nation of Israel to receive her King.  "Immediately after the tribulation,"  He will appear for all the earth to see His power and glory.

Because of the uncertainty as to the exact time of Jesus' return at the conclusion of the tribulation, He provided warning and encouragement for those who will be alive during those seven awful years.  Jesus chose to do this in story-form.
1. The Ten Virgins-Preparation (vv.1-13)
As a reminder, the Church is the bride of Christ and has already been "caught up" to be with Him.  The ten virgins are not the bride but invited guests to the marriage feast.  These would represent the Jews who survived the tribulation.  Some will be spiritually ready and some will not.

The practical lesson that applies to any age is that we need to be spiritually prepared at all times.  No one knows when we may be taken out of this life, by death or by rapture.  No one knows when the seven years of tribulation will begin.  It may be today.  Therefore, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring" (Proverbs 27:1).

2. The Talents-Productive Service (vv.14-30)
Even in the midst of those unbelievably difficult days, the Sovereign Lord will expect people to not only believe in Him but productively use what He gave them.  Note that it is the master who decides the distribution.  The rewards for faithful service is exactly, word for word, the same.  Fear kept the unfaithful one from doing what he knew was right.

For us, it is God who sovereignly provides our spiritual gifts, abilities, and opportunities.  He not only expects to receive back "what was my own" but "with interest" (v.27).  He wants to reward those who are faithful in using what He loaned to us in this life.  "Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful." (1 Corinthians 4:1)

3. The Time of Eternal Judgment-Practical Ministry (vv.31-46)
A key phrase to understanding this section is "these my brothers" (v.40).  That would certainly be a reference to the Jews trying to survive during the tribulation.  With the Antichrist seeking to exterminate them and without the ability to buy and sell, others must provide for them.  It appears, then, that those who come to faith in Jesus during this time will aid them.

Practically speaking, it is a lesson for all of us who to be aware and to be actively helpful to those in need.  As long as there are people who are hungry, do not have clean drinking water, clothing, sick, and incarcerated, we who know Jesus have work to do in His name.  James 2:14-17 repeats this same teaching and adds, "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."    

Monday, August 17, 2015

When will Jesus Return?

Read Matthew 24.

In 23:38, Jesus said, "See your house is left to you desolate."  As He began to leave the Temple, the disciples commented on the buildings.  Jesus again spoke of a day when it will all "be thrown down."  That actually took place in A.D. 70 at the hands of the Romans.   This prompted the twelve to ask two questions:  "Tell us when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?"

Jesus answered those two questions in reverse order.

1. What will be the sign of your coming? (vv.4-14)
False Messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes are only the beginning of what is to come.  Believers will be hated simply because of their faith in Jesus.  Some will be put to death.  Those days will be marked by false teachers, divisiveness, increased crime, and apathy.  "And then the end will come."

2. When will these things be? (vv.15-31)
Jesus referenced the book of Daniel and the sign of the abominable thing being brought into the Temple.  First, this means that before the return of Christ, the Temple must be rebuilt on the site where the Dome of Rock stands today.  Verse 21 says this will touch off the Great Tribulation, or the second half of the seven years (seventieth week) about which Daniel prophesied.  This will not just be a time of trouble but "such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, never will be."

These will be days of preparation for Israel to receive her King.  There is no mention of the church here or in the details of the Tribulation in Revelation 6-18.  "Immediately after the tribulation" (v.29), "then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man." (v.30).  "And every eye will see him" (Revelation 1:7) as Jesus appears "with power and great glory" (v.30).  This exactly what Revelation 19:11-16 describes.

But when those seven years will begin we are not told.  "No one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (v.36)  The disciples asked the same question again in Acts 1:6.  Jesus said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority."

3. What does this mean to us?
First, as bad as things are in this world, they will get worse.  However, God's plans will be fulfilled right on time.

Second, believers in Jesus today will not experience the Great Tribulation.  Our future hope is in not physically making it through that excruciating experience and "endure to the end" (24:13).  We look forward to being "caught up" at any moment "to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Third, people who reject the love and gracious redemption in Jesus, who are alive at that time, will face those awful days.  No wonder, after answering the disciples in Acts 1, Jesus commissioned His followers saying, " will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8).

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Harsh words from Jesus

Read Matthew 23.

After several rounds of questions from the religious leaders at the Temple, Jesus turned to the crowd and spoke some of the harshest words recorded in Scripture.

First, Jesus began by encouraging the people to respect authority.  He did not agree with the Pharisees, Scribes, or Sadducees but He did honor the position they held.  (Romans 13)  These were Israel's spiritual teachers and occupied Biblical offices.  " do and observe whatever they tell you..." (v.2).

Having expressed such respect, then Jesus revealed the real root of His disagreement with them.  "For they preach, but they do not practice" (v.3).  Most of this chapter is filled with specific and condemning examples.  Their motives for what they said and did was only "to be seen by others" (v.5).  Their positions fed their pride, as they arrogantly strutted among the people.  These phonies hurt the very ones they were supposed to help.  They truly had no heart for God and His word.

Here is the principle: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (v.12)

Then, the Lord Jesus began systematically and publicly humbling them.  He pronounced 7 "Woes" of condemnation against them.  Many who do not know the Gospels would be surprised to read this strong list of name-calling.
"Hypocrites" (6 times)
"Child of hell" (not a child of God)
"Blind fools"
"Blind men"
"Blind guides"
"Full of greed and self-indulgence"
"Like white washed tombs" (looks good on the outside, but inside is rotten)
"Brood of vipers"
"Sentenced to hell"
Persecutors of God's servants

What did Jesus do?
1. "I send you prophets and wise men and scribes." (v.34)
2. "I would have gathered you..." (v.37a)

What was the problem?
"You were not willing." (v.37b)

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Answering our culture's Questions

Read Matthew 22.

The questions kept coming.  Each major group took their turn in attempts to entrap Jesus.  If they could catch Him in some inflammatory statement, then they could justify getting rid of Jesus.  However, every attempt not only failed but frustrated their rejections even more.  Notice the hot topics with which they confronted Him.

1. Politics. (vv.15-22)
Here is a strange alignment of Pharisees, who were the ruling group of the Temple, with the Herodians, who held strict allegiance to Rome.  They were at tense odds with each other over the governing of Israel.  Yet, they came together on this occasion.  The question seems to reveal that the Pharisees wanted to use the Herodians and the power of Rome to deal with Jesus.

The answer concerning taxes was direct and clear.  It should have pleased both parties.  Jesus' not so subtle statement reminded them that God owns it all.

2. Theology. (vv.23-33)
If they could not start an argument over politics, perhaps they would be successful debating religion.  The Sadducees were the liberals, who did not believe all that the Scriptures taught.  Ezekiel 1 and Isaiah 6 gave glimpses of what heaven will be like.  But these liberals had their own views of eternity that did not include the teaching of resurrection of the dead.  The silly question was intended to make sport of God's word.

Jesus' response was terse.  If they had known and believed the Scriptures, they would have never tried to insult God or embarrass themselves.  "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God."

3. The Law. (vv.34-40)
Finally, upon seeing their rivals put down, the Pharisees put forth an expert in the Old Testament to quiz Jesus.  "Which is the greatest commandment?"  That question was meant to explode a debate because the Pharisees had added hundreds of their own rules to the law of God.

Jesus answered by summarizing the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) in two statements.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Then, He said the entire Old Testament "depend" upon those two commandments.  It was such a powerful response that in Mark's account the lawyer appeared ready to place his faith in Jesus (Mark 12:32-34).

The example of Jesus is good one for every one of His followers.  We need not succumb to the trap of the legalists who have added to the word of God.  We need not give in to the liberals who ignore the Scriptures to pursue their own views and be culturally acceptable.  We need to know, believe, and put into practice the whole counsel of the Scriptures.

''But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect."
(1 Peter 3:15)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Who is This?

Read Matthew 21.

The time of Passover brought Jews from all over the Roman Empire to Jerusalem.  Jesus joined the journey.  He was right on schedule.  It was Sunday and by Friday He would die on the cross.

His identity was never hidden to those who wanted to see.  But to those who pridefully and rebelliously rejected Jesus, they remained in their spiritual blindness.

1. Your King. (v.5)
Jesus officially offered Himself to the nation as the fulfillment of the One promised by the prophets.  Instead of entering the city on a kingly steed, the lowly Jesus rode on a donkey.  This was exactly what Zechariah 9:9 predicted hundreds of years in advance.

2. Son of David. (v.9)
As the crowds made their way up the elevation to Jerusalem, they would sing the Psalms of Ascents.  Those coming from Galilee would have recognized Jesus and they began to attribute the words of the songs to Him in praise.  Calling Jesus the Son of David is a direct reference to God's promise in 2 Samuel 7:12-16.  Though a descendant of David had not ruled for hundreds of years, the worshipers acknowledged that Jesus was that predicted king.  Matthew chapter one provides the proof of Jesus' lineage and right to the throne.  The angel Gabriel declared at His birth, "...the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David" (Luke 1:32).

3. Savior. (v.9)
The people sang to Jesus, "Hosanna in the highest."  The word hosanna means "save us, we pray".  Looking to Jesus as a king, for many, would have meant saving them from the oppression of the Romans in Israel.  Ruling the world's government will take place at His second coming.  For now, Matthew 1:21-" shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

4. God with us.
In Matthew 1:23, the angel's announcement of Jesus birth included Isaiah's prophetic statement, "...'they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)".  Several responses in this chapter support Jesus' claim to Deity.
-He received praise as God. (v.9, v.16)
-He called the Temple "My house." (v.13)
-He healed an unknown number of people. (v.14)
-He displayed His power over creation. (v.20)
-He identified Himself as the One sent by the Father but rejected. (vv.33-46)

There are four key questions in this text.
Who is this? (v.10)
Do you hear what these are saying? (v.16)
How did the fig tree wither at once? (v.20)
By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? (v.23)
And, the biggest question of all...
Why then did you not believe him? (v.25)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

When life is not Fair

Read Matthew 20.

Possessions and positions are the human measures of success.  Achievement is rated by the more one attains and the higher a person is on the levels of leadership and influence.  God gave the Old Testament leader Samuel a very different perspective.  "For the LORD  sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

In chapter 19, when the wealthy young ruler, who also considered himself strictly obedient, turned from Jesus, the disciples began to wonder about their own status with God.  As Peter said, "We have left everything and followed you."  In response, Jesus said then, and repeated it in chapter 20, "But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

To illustrate that concept, Jesus told the story of the laborers.  The owner of the vineyard hired groups of workers throughout the day.  But when he paid them all the same, the ones who worked the longest and the most, began to complain.  Though they agreed to work for a specific rate, they protested that it was not fair for those who came later to receive the same pay.  There are several thinly veiled
principles that relate to every follower of Christ.

1. God is sovereign.
"Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?"
God is the Owner of all things and all people.  Psalm 24:1-"The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein."
Jesus is not only the Creator, but He is the Controller of the universe.
Colossians 1:17-"And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
The Holy Spirit chooses what spiritual gifts we receive in order to serve the Lord.
1 Corinthians 12:11-"All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills."

2. God is generous.
"Or do you begrudge my generosity?"
The complainers not only thought what they received was unfair, but the driver of their protest was jealousy.  They did not like it when the master in essence gave others more.  However, in God's sovereignty, He also decides the ability to earn.
Deuteronomy 8:18-"You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth."

3. God is just.
Since He owns it all and controls the distribution to individuals, God alone is the true judge of achievement.  Not everyone receives the same abilities.  Not everyone gets the same opportunities.  The true evaluation of our lives is not necessarily to be found in quantity or power, but in what we did with what God individually gave us.
2 Corinthians 8:12-"For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have."

Comparing ourselves to others will inevitably lead us to question God's fairness.  Being grateful for the privilege to serve will motivate us to seize every opportunity and leave the reward to the pleasure of the Owner.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

When good is not good Enough

Read Matthew 19.

The unnamed, wealthy, successful young man had it all.  Yet, deep down inside he knew something was missing in his life.  He did everything that others told him to do in order to please God but it was not good enough.  So, he came to Jesus.  "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"

Much like other one on one encounters, Jesus masterfully began His response on one level and continued to drill down to the very heart of the real problem.

1. "What is good?"
For human reasoning, this is a question of moral ethics.  But Jesus took that simple word and elevated it to its ultimate definition.  "There is only one who is good."  Earlier Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 5:48, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  The young man would have known Leviticus 11:44 where God commanded "be holy, for I am holy."  But the problem is sin.  Sin separates us from God.  And, because of our sinful state the Psalmist wrote: "...there is none who does good....not even one" (Psalm 14:1-3)

2. "Keep the commandments."
Quickly, Jesus changed the focus from internal to external.  Just as the question of "good" was meant to cause the young man to sense his genuine lack of goodness, this challenge questioned his complete obedience to God.  It is a common belief that if I do enough good works, God will accept me.  "Which ones?"  The religious leaders of the day had added so many rules to God's word, he evidently was not sure.  Jesus took him straight back to the Scriptures alone.  Interestingly, Jesus listed a few of the Ten Commandments that have to do with how we treat people.  The young man treated the Scriptures like a check list.  "Got it!"  "What do I still lack?"  This goes back to his original question of "what must I do?"  He is trying his best to earn God's favor.

3. "Sell what you possess and give to the poor."
First, this is not a prescription of how to get to heaven.  This is a tailor-made response for this inquirer.  Jesus knew that his love of wealth was more important to him than God.  His obedience was incomplete.  Instead of using the resources God had allowed him to have for helping others, he hoarded it to feed his pride.  The challenge from Jesus struck him in his heart and he walked away downcast.

This became a teaching moment for the disciples.  The Pharisees taught that financial wealth was the result of spiritual health.  And, if this young man is not pleasing to God then what chance do these twelve men have who have "left everything and followed" Jesus.

4. "With man this is impossible, with God all things are possible."
On his own, perfection was an impossibility.  He could never be good enough.  On his own, pleasing God in his life would always be incomplete.  The heart of the matter was his heart.  He loved something more than God.  It is only by receiving the grace of God that may live a godly and fulfilled life.  "And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." (Romans 4:5)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Good to Great

Read Matthew 18.

Human nature always wants more.  Our desire is to go to the next level, know more, be able to do more, have more, achieve more.  The thirsty ego within is truly never satisfied on its own.

The disciples had traveled with Jesus for a while.  James, John, and Peter became the inner circle of the twelve.  Obviously, they discussed among themselves about a pecking order of some kind.  Jesus said in chapter 11 that "there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist."  So, it seems that they may have been jockeying for a living replacement for that position.  Finally, they bolstered their nerve to ask Jesus, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"  It was the wrong question!

If only they had remembered the second sentence in Matthew 11:12, "Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." These were good men but ill-focused. To teach them how to define greatness in God's sight, Jesus called a child to be right in the middle of these men.

Jesus made several observations in verses 4 and 5 about children that every follower of Christ must know and be.
1. Humility.
When Jesus called this child, he just came.  The child had no agenda or questions.  He simply obeyed Jesus.  Choosing humility is a part of self-discipline.  Pride keeps people from admitting their need for forgiveness, for a Savior, for community.  If one does not humble themselves before God, then sin will lead to the alternative of eventual humiliation.   Later Jesus said, "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:12)  In other words, the way up is down.

2. Service to others.
Instead of self-serving, Jesus taught His followers to be focused on the needs of others.  Receiving a child is an illustration of one who is dependent and cannot help themselves.  He picked up this same theme again referring to children in verses 10-14.  A good shepherd pursues the one that is in need.  To be a follower of Jesus is to be people-focused.

3. For Christ.
Why we serve is more important and what we do.  Is it for our glory, to be the greatest, or for His glory?  Jesus did not merely say to focus on people and serve their needs but to do so "in my name."  His reputation and His authority is to be paramount in our service to others.  Little ones can place their personal faith in Jesus (v.6).  It is not God's will that "one of these little ones should perish" (v.14).  Everyone who comes to Jesus for eternal life must do so with such child-like faith.

The question the disciples should have asked is, "How can we reach the least and the lost so they too will know Jesus and follow Him?"

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Seeing the real Jesus

Read Matthew 17.

Speaking to His disciples, at the end of chapter 16, Jesus stated that "some" (not all) would "see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" in their lifetime!  The chapter and verse divisions were added much later and, unfortunately, this particular division is ill-placed in the text.

Who will get to see this?  When will they see it?  What will they see?  The answers are here in chapter 17:1-13.

Who?  That inner circle of His followers, Peter, James and John.
When?  A week later.
What they saw and heard marked them for the rest of their lives.

1. They saw Jesus transfigured before them.
He was fully man and fully God.  Philippians 2:6-8, "...who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."  In that moment, Jesus pulled back the curtain of His humanity and allowed these three to see His real identity.  This is the Jesus that John saw again in Revelation 1 and how He will appear when He returns to earth in Revelation 19 to establish His earthly kingdom.

2. They saw Moses and Elijah.
Luke 9:31 informs us that they were talking about "his departure."  Indeed, Jesus had been teaching concerning His death, burial, and resurrection.  In Acts 1, His departure was to ascend visibly back into heaven.  Most conservative scholars believe that Moses and Elijah will be the two powerful witnesses of Revelation 11, who will prepare the world for the second coming of Christ.  Peter's response regarding making tents may have been in keeping with the Feast of Tabernacles.

3. They heard the Father's voice.
This is the second of three times God, the Father, is heard audibly in the Gospel's.  Each time, the purpose was to unmistakably authenticate the identity and authority of who Jesus is and the word of God.  Peter would later write: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty...for we were with him on the holy mountain.  And we have the prophetic word more fully spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:16-21)

The transfiguration of Jesus put the three disciples on the ground and "terrified" them.  Jesus reassured them.  "And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only."  The Father said, "...hear him."  Jesus said concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit, "He will glorify me" (John 16:13-14).

When we read and study the Bible, we get to see Jesus as He really is.  When we live for Jesus, we get to see His power and majesty displayed everywhere we turn.

3 questions everyone must Answer

Read Matthew 16.

Dr. Bruce Shelly taught this chapter around three questions.  True followers of Jesus are neither legalists nor liberals. They are marked forever by their answers to three questions.

1. Who is Christ? (vv.13-16)
First, Jesus asked His disciples about public opinion.  They had been among the crowds on many occasions.  "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"  It is an innocuous question meant to stir the conversation.  The answers were all prophetic preachers who were forerunners, or predictors, of the coming Messiah.

Then, Jesus asked the most important question ever asked and the one that determines each person's eternal destiny.  "But who do you say that I am?"  The answer: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  The power is not in the person who said it but in the confession itself.  This statement is a recognition that Jesus is the Anointed One of God, the Messiah, who was predicted to come.  That He alone is God, the Son.  It is not enough to simply have cognitive awareness of Jesus, or even to be in the crowd of those who follow Him.  One must make this confession of faith for themselves in order to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

2. What is the Church? (vv.17-20)
Jesus said on that rock solid confession "I will build my church."  There is no church in the Old Testament, nor in the Gospels.  Jesus used a future tense here to indicate that something new will be coming.  The church exists in Scriptures from the Book of Acts through Revelation chapter 3.  The word "church" does not refer to a building but to a group of people who have been "called out" from other beliefs to place their eternal trust in Jesus alone.  Without such a personal faith, any such use of the word church placed on a building or a "membership" is a pretense.

3. Why the Cross? (vv.21-23)
"From that time" Jesus taught His disciples about the coming suffering, His death, and His resurrection.  This chapter begins with the religious leaders asking for sign to confirm Jesus' identity.  They had already asked this question in 12:38.  The answer was the same, as Jesus pointed to Jonah and the prophet's experience for three days and three nights.  There can be no true resurrection without death.

Peter's objection, similar to Satan's temptations of Christ in Matthew 4, is to skip the agony of the cross for some other plan.  But "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22).  Indeed, the gospel, according to the Apostle Paul is "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Nothing else.

What happened to the nation's spiritual Leadership?

Read Matthew 15.

Jesus was teaching in Galilee.  A select committee of the Pharisees and scribes traveled from Jerusalem to confront Jesus.  After all, thousands were following Him wherever He went.  The Temple only saw such crowds at appointed days.  Curiosity turned to jealousy and then to outrage.  The questions they leveled at Jesus were not for information but for condemnation.

God's design in Exodus was to give Israel His word on how to worship and live for Him.  He gave them instructions for the Tabernacle (replaced by the Temple) as the one and only place for sacrifices.  He appointed a priesthood to serve the people, to teach His word, and to provide spiritual leadership for the nation.  In Jesus' day, those three elements were lost and replaced with politicized groups who jockeyed for positions of influence.  

Here are the issues in conflict:
1. Fear vs. Faith.
Instead of serving the people, the coalition of religious leaders from the Temple used coercive tactics to threaten their fellow Jews to conformity.  They abused the people with their power by forbidding some to come to the Temple, kicking them out of the synagogues, or even stoning a person to death.  This they did without any human accountability.  For the most part, the people feared these who were appointed to serve them.

Then, Jesus came.  He had no appointed position from the Temple.  He did not graduate from their schools.  He was not a follower of one the esteemed Rabbis.  He just showed up and served to meet the needs of the people.  No wonder the people flocked to Him.

2. Control vs. Compassion.
The religious leaders were all about control.  They used fear to make the people do what they wanted.  Never mind what God wanted.  With the Roman government in charge, there existed a competition for the lines of authority over the nation.

Then, Jesus came.  The miracles were never used to draw a crowd.  They were confirmations of the message and authority of Christ.  The motivation behind the miracles of Jesus was His love for the people.
"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them..." (Matthew 9:36)
"...he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick." (Matthew 14:14)
"I have compassion on the crowd..." (Matthew 15:32)

3. Outward vs. Inward.
At the very root of the disagreement between the religious leaders and Jesus was the authority of their beliefs and behaviors.  It is blatant in this passage that they followed "the tradition of the elders" (v.2) instead of the Scriptures for their authority of faith and practice.  The leadership was divided among the legalists (Pharisees) and liberals (Sadducees).  Over time, each adhered to what others said about the Scriptures, rather than being discipled in God's word.  This led to them to place the teaching of men above the teaching of God.

Then, Jesus came.  He called them back to the Scriptures and reminded them of the original intent.  It is His word they were ignoring and violating!  Such a forthright response offended them (v.12).  But the seriousness of this sin warranted such bluntness.  They were not only offending God but they were leading the people into gross error.  It is the word of God to which they ( and we) will be held accountable at the judgment (v.13).

8 steps to a Miracle

Read Matthew 14.

Great crowds were now following Jesus.  It was not only His teaching that drew them, but He "had compassion on  them and healed their sick" (v.14).  With the day nearly spent, the disciples became concerned that the people needed to be dispersed for supper.  They may have been just as concerned about their own lack of food.  Jesus' response seems terse but, as always, He had a much better plan.

This incident provides a blueprint for how God may work and meet the needs of ministry that He wants accomplished.
1. "You give them something to eat." (v.16)
Jesus was not being unkind in using such a sharp comeback to the disciples.  He knew what He would do.  This was meant to make the disciples do some analysis of their own and come to the realization that they could not meet the needs of the people.  When we reach the end of ourselves we then are ready to cast our full dependence upon the Lord.

2. "We have only five loaves here and two fish." (v.17)
They did exactly what Jesus wanted them to do.  Indeed, the use of the pronoun "we" refers to what their efforts.  From the other Gospel accounts we learn that the food actually belonged to a young lad in the crowd.  The sum of their resources amounted to less than a drop in the bucket compared to what was required to meet the immediate need.

3. "Bring them here to me." (v.18)
When we do not know what to do, Jesus wants us to come to Him for help.  On our own, we cannot live in a manner that pleases God and meets the true needs of others.  Jesus said, "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).  James 1:5 states that God desires to give us wisdom without making us feel foolish, if we will completely trust Him.  The throne of grace is instantly available to believers today "that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

4. "He ordered the crowds to sit down." (v.19)
Again, from the other Gospels, we learn that He ordered the people to sit in numbered groups.  One of the reasons God does not give some churches greater opportunity to reach people for Christ and serve their community is that they are not organized to do so.  Without some structure for distributing the food, this could have turned to chaos.

5. "He looked up to heaven and said a blessing." (v.19)
Once they were ready, Jesus stopped to pray.  He gave thanks for what they had and asked the Father to add His blessing.  Without intentionally seeking God's favor, with thanksgiving, how can anyone expect to experience God's blessings?  (Philippians 4:6)

6. "He broke the loaves." (v.19)
Talk about acting in faith!  Jesus did not wait until they had all the resources to begin distributing what they had.  He prayed and then acted, anticipating the miracle that would take place.  Concerning generosity giving when resources are limited, the Apostle Paul wrote, "For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have." (2 Corinthians 8:12)

7. "The disciples gave them to the crowds." (v.19)
These men had to think it strange that with such sparse resources they would attempt this incredible task.  But they did.  Their faith was not blind.  They were being obedient to the assignment Jesus had given them.  Only then would they get to see a miracle.  If we wait until we have all we think we need before obeying God, we can become disobedient and miss what God intended in us and for others.

8. "They all ate and were satisfied." (v.20)
A little boy's lunch was all they could find.  A miracle happened!  The needs of thousands were met.    We never know what God will do when we simply give Him what we have.

Are you Listening?

Read Matthew 13.

This chapter reveals a decided shift in the ministry of Jesus.  I am indebted to Louis A. Barbieri, Jr. for his unusual clarity concerning Matthew's Gospel. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition, Victor Books)

1. Why did Jesus change His teaching style? (v.3)
Previously, the Lord had been teaching the crowds in a straightforward manner.  But here He changed to using parables.  These are comparative stories to teach truth and require something extra to be able to comprehend the exact meaning.  They are earthly stories used to convey heavenly truths.  Not everyone in the crowd readily understood.  The disciples picked up on it immediately and asked for an explanation (v.10).

This shift took place when the religious leaders accused Jesus of being Satanically empowered (12:24).  With that rejection of the Messiah came the change in the way Jesus ministered publicly.  His followers wanted to know more and Jesus taught them separately.

2. What are the mysteries, or secrets, of the kingdom of heaven? (v.11)
Theses are "truths not revealed in the Old Testament but which now were made known to those instructed."

3. Why doesn't everyone respond favorably to the good news of Jesus? (vv.18-23)
The parable of the sower is the first of seven in this chapter telling what the kingdom of heaven is like.  It was told by Jesus in verses 3-9 and then explained in verses 18-23.  There are four distinct responses given.  Each received the same seed (or message) but with very different results.

-Some do not understand the message and are kept from any positive spiritual impact at all by the devil himself (v.19).
-Some like what they heard but never go on to a genuine commitment to Christ due to only a shallow understanding (vv.20-21).
-Some believe the message but never develop as a growing follower of Jesus because of being enslaved by the cares of this temporal world (v.22).
-Some receive the message and cultivate their faith into a growing and productive spiritual life (v.23).

It was always the same message, so what made the difference?    Jesus quoted Isaiah.  "For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed" (v.15).  One must have an open heart to experience the life-change Jesus offers.  A classic illustration is Samuel.  As a little boy, God spoke to him, but he did not realize who was speaking.  Finally, he said the words that all true followers say, "Speak, LORD, your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:9).

Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in..." (Revelation 3:20)  Are you listening?

Jesus is Greater!

Read Matthew 12.

1. Jesus is Greater than the Law. (vv.1-21)
The self-righteous critics were so locked into their  man-made systems that they totally lost perspective on what God intended. The Law is God's word given to Israel for their good.  However, the Law was made for man, not man for the law.

Jesus provided them with three examples; two from the Old Testament and one from the farm.  The common thread in each of them is common sense.  When a man is starving, you give him whatever food you have.  When something must to be done, you do it.  When there is an accident or an emergency, you take action.  This is showing mercy or compassion for the situation.  It is not a violation of the Law when there are circumstances that warrant extraordinary measures.  In verse 7, Jesus was not saying the Law and sacrifices were not important.  They absolutely were.  But understanding God's purposes and what He is doing may supersede those in a moment.

These two encounters in the first half of the chapter prompted Jesus to make two earth-shattering statements.
"I tell you something greater than temple is here." (v.7)
"For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath," (v.8)

Using the term "Son of Man" was clearly understood by the religious leaders to be a reference to Daniel 7:13-14.  The term appears 30 times in Matthew.  Later when Jesus applied it again to Himself these religious leaders wanted to stone Him for making Himself out to be God.  To say that He was greater and more important than the temple would have riled them to no end.  It is not a stretch to see that Jesus was saying, "I am greater than the Law."  After all the Law was His word.

2. Jesus is Greater than Jonah. (vv.38-41)
The critic's question here was for a sign from Jesus.  A sign?  He had already provided innumerable signs authenticating His identity as the Messiah, God in the flesh.  To want more, Jesus called them "evil and adulterous."  Next, He gave them a veiled prediction of His resurrection.  If the Gentile mega-city of Nineveh repented at the one sentence preaching of a reluctant prophet, what will be the condemnation of those who rejected the ministry of the Son of God?  Then, another earth-shattering statement.
"Something greater than Jonah is here." (v.41)

3. Jesus is Greater than Solomon. (v.42)
And speaking of Gentiles believing in the God of Israel, if the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10) praised God upon visiting Solomon, how much more will be the condemnation of those who reject Jesus?  Then, came the third earth-shattering statement.
"Something greater than Solomon is here."

Jesus is greater than the Old Testament Law, Poets, and Prophets.  He is greater than any of the problems and issues we may face.  He Lord over all.  And, Jesus welcomes into His family those who want to "do the will of my Father in heaven" (v.50).

Do you hear the music God is Playing?

Read Matthew 11.

John the Baptist lingered in prison, unable to continue his ministry.  What he did not know was that he would soon be beheaded.  Under such pressure, this once bold and brash cousin of Jesus was now in need of reassurance.  Some of John's followers came asking if indeed Jesus is the Messiah.  The response pointed to His authority, His power, and His message of good news.

At that Jesus turned to the crowds and spoke concerning John and his ministry.  John was not a rich and famous man but a messenger whose ministry was to prepare the way for the Messiah.  Jesus quoted Malachi 3:1 and applied it to John as fulfilling the role of the prophet Elijah with this condition, "if you are willing to accept it."  They were not willing.

How could they not respond in faith?  In a comparison, Jesus said the reason they were not dancing was they could not hear the music God was playing.  They were spiritually blind and deaf.  Yet, even their lack of repentance was in plan of God.  And, speaking of lack of response, Jesus went on to condemn some of the cities where he had preached (11:1).  "They did not repent" (v.20).  Do not miss that Jesus indicated that there are degrees of eternal punishment.  Sodom experienced the temporal judgment of God in Genesis 19, but eternal judgment awaits.  Some, like the unrepentant people of Capernaum, will suffer even more in eternity.  Why?   They were given greater opportunity.  Here, stood Jesus, God in the flesh.  They saw the miracles.  They heard His call to believe in Him.

Still, Jesus extended another invitation to respond in verses 28-30.
1. "Come to me."
He viewed the people in 9:36 as being "harassed and helpless."  Here, he saw them as burdened down and tired of carrying their load in life.  His offer is rest.

2. "Take my yoke upon you."
As two oxen are joined in a yoke for work, Jesus invites us to personally link up with Him.  It is not a 50/50 assignment.  His yoke is light and easy because life must lived in His strength and power.

3. "Learn from me."
Merely knowing Jesus will not lighten the load.  There is  no discipleship without discipline.  The picture of the yoke implies that there is work to be done.  We must intentionally be trained in God's word and His ways to be able to live a life that pleases Him and benefits us.

The result is rest for our souls.  Peace with God.  Peace from God.

6 elements of those who serve Jesus

Read Matthew 10.

At the end of chapter nine, Jesus revealed His view of ministry to people.  He saw it as a plentiful harvest.  Ecclesiastes 3:2 states that there is "a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted."  This was a time to reap.  But also in Jesus' view of the harvest was a serious lack of laborers.  So, He asked those closest to Him to pray that God would send out workers to minister to the needs of the people.  Then, He sent the very ones whom He asked to pray.

What follows are the details of Jesus giving to these twelve men of His authority.  It becomes obvious that such authority and empowerment was unique to those named in verses 2-4.  They not only were given the ability to cast out demons but "to heal every disease and every affliction," including raising the dead (v.8).  And, they were to serve without pay (vv.9-10).  However, there are elements of serving the Lord that apply to every Christian.

1. See. (9:37)
Serving the Lord begins with seeing the world as God sees it.  The needs of people are everywhere and overwhelming.  How do you see the people around you?

2. Pray. (9:38)
Jesus' prayer request to His followers was to pray for the harvest of people, and specifically, that the Lord would send out laborers into that harvest.

3.  Listen. (10:1)
He personally called them to Himself.  All service for God begins with a call to a personal, growing relationship with Jesus.  To whom are you listening for life direction?

4. Go. (10:5-24)
When Jesus called their names, they were ready to be sent.  He gave them instructions as to what to say and what to do.  He warned them of the problems and dangers ahead.  Are you ready to go wherever God wants to send you?

5. Commitment. (10:25-39)
Serving Jesus could cost them their lives and will cost them relationships.  There is a spiritual war going on.  Proclaiming that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one goes to heaven without faith in Him is divisive.  "Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."  He encouraged them to not fear because their spiritual work was more important than what may happen to them physically or socially.  How committed are you?

6. Rewards. (vv.40-42)
At the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), followers of Jesus will be rewarded for their service.  That is the only true evaluation of the success of any laborer in the harvest.  There are various types of rewards, but the greatest will be to hear the Father's voice saying "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25).  Is that your overarching life goal?

Does God help those who help Themselves?

Read Matthew 9.

Jesus continued to publicly display His power and authority as God in the flesh.  What began in Matthew 7:28 with His teaching authority over the Scriptures has now been plain for all to see in every area, including the natural elements, physical maladies, satanic powers, and the forgiveness of sin.  As He confirmed His identity, Jesus had compassion on the people "because they were harassed and helpless" (v.36).

The questions asked were all good ones.  But not everyone liked the obvious answers.
1. Question #1. (vv.1-8)
In verse 3, the accusation was blasphemy.  The question, unasked in Matthew's account, was "Who can forgive sins but God?"  The answer from Jesus was "that you may know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins" he healed the paralytic man.

2. Question #2. (vv.9-13)
The next question was, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  Jesus answered that He did not come "to call the righteous, but sinners."  The self-righteous critics felt no guilt for their sin and no need of a Savior.  But those that did sense and admit their need found an eternal friend in Jesus.

3. Question #3. (vv.14-17)
John's disciples asked, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?"  The answer compared being with Jesus as a time for celebration.  No one fasts on joyful occasions.  But in anticipation of the cross and His ascension back to heaven, Jesus indicated that an appropriate time for fasting will come when He is gone.

4. Question #4. (vv. 27-31)
This question was asked by Jesus of the two blind men.  "Do you believe that I am able to do this?"  They replied, "Yes, Lord."  Then, Jesus healed them both.

The paralytic could not help himself.  His four friends had to carry him to Jesus.  

The ruler of the Synagogue could not help his daughter.  She died of unstated causes.  But he cast his hope on Jesus, even confessing that he believed Jesus could raise her from the dead.

The bleeding woman could not find anyone to help her after twelve years of trying.  She put her faith in Jesus and he healed her in an instant.

The two blind men lived without a cure, but they came to Jesus for help.

The man in verses 32-34 was oppressed by demons and mute.    Someone brought him to Jesus.  Not only did the demons flee but the man began to speak.

Each of these illustrates that God helps those who CANNOT help themselves.  It is only when a person comes to the end of themselves and realizes only by casting one's dependence on Him that true deliverance is possible.  Help is available for those who come to Jesus in faith and total dependence on Him.

Where does Jesus get His Authority?

Read Matthew 8.

Crowds of people began following Jesus as He preached.  This chapter begins the documentation of a series of healings and miracles that Jesus employed to validate His message and identity as the Messiah.  He certainly did not use the healings to draw a crowd.  They were already there.

It is interesting to note that there is no formula in the Scriptures concerning these healings.  The leper came to Jesus, expressing his faith in the Lord's ability.  However, Jesus went to Peter's mother-in-law to heal her.  The centurion was a Gentile and Jesus did not go to see his daughter but merely spoke and it was done.  Some He touched.  Some He did not touch.  In verse 16, He cast out demons "with a word."  And, in that same verse we are told that He "healed all who were sick," not just some.  These lives were instantly changed!  One can only imagine what stories they communicated about Jesus for the rest of their lives.  They had been physically helped (temporal) and spiritually transformed (eternal).

The crucifixion was still more than a couple years away, yet the Holy Spirit had Matthew cite part of Isaiah's prophecy at this point in His life.  From Isaiah 53: "He took our illnesses and bore our diseases." (v.17)  Indeed, Jesus was fulfilling the predictions concerning the Messiah.

All of these signs of the Messiah were meant intentionally to demonstrate His full authority as God in the flesh.
1. Authority in His teaching. (7:29)
The Scribes, who were the scholars of the day, took the Scriptures and added rabbinical teachings.  They argued among themselves as to which rabbi was right and what behavioral applications should be required,  But, instead of presenting the opinions of men and options of thought, He declared the truth of God's word.  They were not used to hearing such.  After all the Scripture is the written word of God.

2. Authority over evil spirits. (8:16)
The Temple priests, Rabbis, and other religious leaders had no cure for one obviously possessed by demons.  Some tried to deny the existence of Satan and evil spirits.  Others thought only to protect themselves by treating them as an outcast.  Instead, Jesus cast out the demons.  Though believers can resist the Devil and he will flee (James 4:7), only God has true authority over Satan and his hordes.  Even Michael, the archangel, when he fought against Satan, as recorded in Jude 9, said, "The Lord rebuke you."  God did, can, and will judge the Devil and his demons.  To prove He was God, Jesus did it in verses 16 and 31-32.

3. Authority over creation. (8:27)
Colossians chapter one is clear that Jesus is the Creator of all things.  He created hydrogen and oxygen.  He commanded them to fuse together and form the waters.  It was not something unusual, then, for Jesus to command the movements of the winds and sea of Galilee.  Yet, the disciples "marveled."

No one had ever seen anything like this before.  "What sort of man is this?," they asked.  He is Immanuel, God with us.

Evaluating our Relationships

Read Matthew 7.

This third chapter of quotes from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount contains three foundational keys to evaluating relationships and responding to others.

1. Practice what you preach. (vv.1-5)
To have and maintain any relationship with another person begins with self-examination.  This does not say, "Never judge."  Many have used verse one for their own purposes and chosen to ignore the rest of the chapter.  The intent of the admonition here is to first judge yourself.  Saying one thing and doing another is the practical definition of hypocrisy.  The Apostle Paul wrote, "But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged." (1 Corinthians 11:31).

A good understanding of our own imperfections and sin should cause us to live humbly with others.  Knowing how God has treated us with His grace, mercy and forgiveness should stimulate us to extend those same qualities to others when they do wrong.

2. Treat others the way you wish to be treated. (v.12)
Dr. John Maxwell wrote an intriguing little book entitled, "There's no such thing as 'business' ethics."  His premise is that all ethics are personal and that Matthew 7:12 is the foundation.  In Philippians, believers are told to demonstrate how Jesus self-sacrificially treated others.  "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:4)

3. Don't believe everything you see and hear. (vv.15-23)
If the earlier point had been not to judge others, Jesus would not have included these verses in His message.  We can know the authenticity of another person by looking at the results and evaluating them according to God's word.

His chief example concerns false teachers.  They look and sound religious.  They may say they believe in Jesus.  Today, they may even hold up a Bible and quote from it.  But often their genuineness is not in what they say but in what they do not say.  It is not only in their public lives but in their private behaviors where the real truth lies.  The religious pretenders and scoundrels are many.  And, it is not just those on the platform but also those sitting in the seats.  Many espouse that they are Christians because of their family, their culture, or even their good works.  Yet, without a personal repentance of sin and faith in Jesus as their Savior, on that day of God's judgment He will say, "Depart from me."

Interestingly, the text segues into evaluating the foundation of one's life in verses 24-27.  The most important part of any structure is the foundation.  This is the first place to look in evaluating a life as well.  The Apostle Peter quoted Isaiah 28:16 and proclaimed that Jesus is the Cornerstone of our faith. "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."