Bible Reading Blog

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Congregational Bible Reading

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I Will Never Fall Away

Monday, May 20, 2019

BIBLE READING: Matthew 26

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” (Matthew 26.69-70)

Peter was one of the most vocal followers of Jesus Christ. He worked with Jesus and he walked with Jesus; Peter swore up and down he would never forsake Jesus. "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away" (Matthew 26.33). But in this moment of weakness, he did that very thing.

What happened to Peter? Would this not have been the perfect moment to stand up for Christ and demonstrate his allegiance? But he faltered, and in his fear, he denied Jesus three times. To make things worse, Jesus turns and makes eye contact with him (Luke 22.61). In that moment Peter knew what he had done; he had denied Jesus, the very thing Jesus said he would do (Matthew 26.34).

This certainly was a crushing moment in Peter's life, but it was also a reality check. When Jesus looked at Peter, and the reality of what he did set in, Peter broke down in tears because he knew he was wrong (Matthew 26.75). He could have made any number of excuses for his actions, but he didn't, because not only did he know the Lord, but he loved him, and Peter was sorry for his sin.

We have these moments of weakness in our lives too, don't we? We know what Jesus says, we know what he stands for, and yet in moments of weakness and fear, we do the very thing we say we will never do. It happens… but the question is, when Jesus looks at us, how do we respond?

We need these moments of clarity to understand and appreciate the mercy and grace and love of Christ. Just prior to this episode Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, as a reminder of what he was willing to give for the sins of the world. As disciples of Christ , we partake in this same memorial every week to remember his commitment to our salvation and the hope that we have through the death of Jesus.

We may be fickle, and we may not always see clearly, but the point of this memorial is to offer clarity to the reality of our shortcomings. Whether we are in the best or the worst moments of our lives, it is the grace of God through Christ that even makes salvation possible (Ephesians 2.8-9). We cannot save ourselves by our own merit... but thank God we have a Savior!

Partaking the Lord’s Supper should be a time of great humbling because, as Christ looks at us, we know that we are not worthy of his love; and yet he still offers mercy and grace to all who hope in him. And so, with humility and grace “let us hold fast our confession of hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10.23).

Woe to You, Hypocrites!

Monday, May 13, 2019

BIBLE READING: Matthew 23

If you want to know what Jesus really thought about those pesky religious leaders… here it is. “…they preach but they do not practice… They do all their deeds to be seen by others… [they] are blind guides… hypocrites!” (Matthew 23.3, 5, 24) … Jesus just unloads on them.

If this chapter seems a bit out of character for Jesus, it’s because it is. This was not his typical approach, even with the Pharisees. Up to this point, Jesus has dealt reasonably and patiently with the religious leaders, but they refused to “see” his authority (Matthew 21.32). And so, this section was the climax of their interactions. Jesus was at a point in his ministry where he needed to clearly expose the fallacy of their hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is a buzz word in our world today. Many foolishly use this as justification for why they can’t go to church or follow God – “the church is just filled with a bunch of hypocrites!” But notice that Jesus didn’t use the term flippantly. Only after he had reasoned with these people did he resort to addressing them as hypocrites. His goal was not name calling but rather to expose their inconsistency.  Something worth considering is the fact that no other New Testament writer uses the term “hypocrite”. Only Jesus called men hypocrites… and only Jesus truly knew the hearts of men (Matthew 9.4).

Nobody wants to be like the Pharisees, but we are not that different from them at times. Maybe we don’t outwardly express the same pretense , but none of us are exempt from self-deception. Jesus’ comments in Matthew 23 highlight some important truths that will help us self-evaluate and guard against hypocrisy in our lives:

  1. Learning is imperative to real discipleship… Despite their apparent failings, these religious groups respected God’s word, and throughout this gospel, Jesus commends their knowledge of the law to his hearers (Matthew 5.20; 23.2-3). We must not only appreciate the need to hear what God has to say but have a commitment to knowing it like these men.
  2. …but with understanding comes expectation. Being a disciple is not merely an academic pursuit. One must become a “doer of the word and not a hearer only” (James 1.22). The Pharisee’s defined themselves by what they didn’t do. However, this negative approach to God’s word did not make them righteous (Matthew 23.13). Their pursuit of knowledge overshadowed the intent of the law: to produce lives filled with justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23.23). God’s word is designed to produce a change in our actions and attitudes that will serve others and not ourselves (Matthew 20.26-28).
  3. God knows your hearts. You may fool others but before God, no pretense will matter. Remember Jesus’ words from Matthew 6: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6.1). God is the rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11.6) and He knows who you truly are.

My guess is that no one intends to be a hypocrite, but there are many worldly pressures that can lead us down that path into self-deception. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are a wake-up call for all of us. Do my actions align with who I claim to be? More importantly, do my actions align with who I claim to follow?

Hosanna in the Highest!

Monday, May 06, 2019

BIBLE READING: Matthew 21

“And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”” (Matthew 21.9)

“Hosanna” was a Hebrew declaration of hopeful triumph. In scripture, this word is always used in the context of God’s deliverance through the Messiah. It is fitting people would say this as Jesus entered Jerusalem; he had proven himself to be the king God promised for his people. But their declaration was more than just a word of praise.  

The English word “hosanna” comes from a Hebrew phrase “hoshiya na” that is found once in the Old Testament. “Save us [hoshiya na], we pray, O LORD!” (Psalm 118:25). In this context it is a cry to God for help, like when somebody pushes you off the diving board before you can swim and you come up hollering: "Help, save me . . . Hoshiya na!"

The writer of Psalm 118 is desperate for God’s salvation, but his cry is answered almost before it came out his mouth. As he looks forward to God’s promised salvation, the writer’s desperation evolves into a sure and hopeful expectation of deliverance. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” (Psalm 118.26). He is confident the Lord will send help.

These are the words proclaimed as Jesus enters Jerusalem (Matthew 21.9). Jesus had said and done enough to prove himself to the Jews. And so, at this point the battle lines were drawn. The people who experienced Jesus either accepted that he was sent from God to save them or rejected him. There was no casual in between, and that’s how Jesus wanted it. He was the Messiah sent from God to save people, but he could only save those who trusted him to do so.

These people may not have fully understood who Jesus was or what he was saving them from; but they recognized God’s providence and acknowledged his grace through Jesus. Their declaration of “hosanna” captures the essence of why we need Jesus. We are in desperate need of saving; drowning in sin and alienated from God (Colossians 1.21). We don’t like to feel desperate, but we must see clearly that unless God does something, we are dead in the water… but God has sent help (Ephesians 2.4-5). As believers we must recognize our desperate need for God’s help and set our hearts to fully trust what he is given to us through his son Jesus. Our king has come to save us (1 Timothy 1.15)!

Matthew’s narrative has brought us to a point of decision. He has demonstrated Jesus’ power and confirmed his authority. The evidence proves that he can save… but how will our heart respond? God alone can save, and until we come to terms with our helplessness, and recognize this point, we will never realize the fulfillment of him as our king.

“The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.” (Psalm 118.27)

Who is the Greatest?

Monday, April 29, 2019

BIBLE READING: Matthew 20

“Who is the greatest?” Jesus's disciples asked (Matthew 18.1). I can almost feel the tension building as the disciples jockeyed for status (Matthew 20.24). As Jesus' influence grew, his disciples were trying to position themselves for the coming kingdom. Even the mother of James and John tried to manipulate the process by asking for her sons to have positions of distinction (Matthew 20.20-21). But Jesus’ kingdom was not like that, and he clarified this with a parable.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard(Matthew 20.1). He hired some in the morning for a specified wage, and throughout the day he brought on more workers with promise of payment. At the end of the day, everyone received the same payment. The early morning workers thought this to be unfair, but the master reminded them, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20.15). 

Just prior to this, Jesus told Peter, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” Jesus’ disciples had invested a lot in his movement (Matthew 19.27) because they believed in Jesus and trusted his ability to fulfil his promises. Jesus’ point to Peter is that everyone is called into his kingdom with the promise of a reward.

But there is a critical point we must understand: The reward is not contingent on how much or how long the laborer worked. In fact, the rewards were not contingent upon anything except their willingness to work. Notice there are no details given about what each laborer did. Jesus highlights only the fact that they labor in the vineyard because the master called them to work. I think this parable teaches us two important lessons:

  1. There are some who will work their whole lives in service to the Lord; others take years to hear the call of the gospel. But whether the master calls us early or late in life is irrelevant. What matters is that he calls us because there is a need (Matthew 9.37-38), and we will be rewarded for the labor we perform. Are you doing the work Jesus has called you to do?  
  2. In Jesus’ kingdom there is no position granted based on talent or potential. Some people have 5 talents, others 1 talent (Matthew 25.14-30); but the reward is not offered based on relative performance or results. Those who receive the reward are those who use their talents to do what the master calls them to do. Are you doing the best with what you’ve been given?

Jesus concluded this section by answering the disciple’s question. “…whoever would be great among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” (Matthew 20.27-28). If Jesus “did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2.6) who are we to rank ourselves with one another? We must evaluate our talents only so we can use them in humble service to others, like King Jesus.

How Often Should I Forgive?

Monday, April 22, 2019

BIBLE READING: Matthew 18

“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18.21)

To forgive may be one of the most challenging things Jesus expects us to do. It requires selflessness, maturity and wisdom. Maybe I’m willing verbalize forgiveness, but am I willing to truly let go of the negative emotions I have towards another?

I would guess that Peter’s question accentuates a fallacy many of us have about forgiveness. His question of “how many times should I forgive” implies that we have the right to limit our forgiveness. But what Peter misunderstood is forgiveness is not a matter of quantity but quality.

To expose Peter's fallacy, Jesus’ tells a parable about a servant who owes an enormous debt to the king (Matthew 18.21-34). The servant is unable to pay, but the king has pity on him and absolves the entire debt (Matthew 18.25-27). However, this servant fails to reciprocate the mercy shown to him and the king’s attitude towards him changes quickly. “…should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18.33)

The point of the parable is this: we are the servant with an unpayable debt, and God in his mercy has cancelled that debt (Colossians 2.13-14). Even though we regularly fall short of God’s expectations (Romans 3.23) he continues to show mercy and forgiveness. But we don’t just get to revel in this grace. We are expected to reciprocate this attitude towards others (Matthew 5.7, 18.33).

After all, if God forgives me when I don’t deserve it (Romans 5.8), what right do I have to limit my forgiveness? What grounds do I have for withholding mercy from another? I have none, except on a selfish basis. My decision to withhold forgiveness from anyone would be thoughtless of what God has done for me. 

To truly forgive we must recognize the gracious nature and purpose of God’s forgiveness. He doesn’t want our lives to be devastated by the effects of sin. And so, we must allow his mercy to change our hearts. Forgiveness must not be a power we wield against others or set limits on. It must be a way of life that shares what God has done for us!

If we are honest, there are times when we find ourselves behaving like the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18.28-30). However, if we withhold forgiveness, we not only spurn the opportunity to reconcile with others and find peace, we are snubbing God which has serious consequences (Matthew 18.32-35).

How do you treat people when they let you down or do you wrong? Do you keep a running tally of whether or not they are behaving in a way that keeps them in your good graces, or do you practice true forgiveness? I think our natural leaning is to think like Peter and set limits, but what Jesus is saying is that forgiveness is not a matter of how many times, but simply how. We must forgive others from the heart because we have been abundantly and mercifully forgiven by God (Matthew 18.33, 35).

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