Bible Reading Blog
BIBLE READING: Matthew 12
Not long ago, a friend of mine snuck up from behind, put his arm around my neck and lifted me off the ground. For a small guy like me, there is not a more helpless feeling than being put in a choke hold by someone twice your size. In that moment I was powerless. Although he was just messing with me, a terrifying realization occurred to me: If someone stronger than me doesn’t show mercy, I am dead meat!
It is a humbling experience to realize your own helplessness. I believe that is why we tend to mask our insecurities with comparison and pride. If I can establish myself as better, stronger, more talented in some way than another, I won’t feel vulnerable or inadequate. In fact, I can take pride in some aspect of my life that I feel adept.
This is an attitude for which Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in Matthew 12. They had established themselves as “experts” in the law and were looking for ways to assert their position (Matthew 12.10)... but Jesus points out their fundamental flaw. “…if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12.7)
Sacrifices were a critical part of worship, but they were not the point. The system of worship was intended to keep the worshipper focused on God. The Pharisees, however, had overemphasized their part in worship and underemphasized the point: all men need mercy from God.
By nature, God is superior to all. He could speak a word and we would cease to exist. When we seriously consider that point, we should feel helpless. If God does not show mercy, where does that leave us? And yet, despite his preeminence, God doesn’t flaunt His power. He is patient and compassionate to everyone and doesn’t show any partiality (Romans 2.11). Which begs the question: Why does God show mercy? It is because there is intentionality to God's mercy!
We are powerless before the Almighty God, but that does not mean we are useless (Ephesians 2.4-10). We all have things we are good at, and we should use those talents to serve others; but we must realize that God doesn’t want us merely to follow a checklist or offer our lives as sacrifices. He wants us to be changed in our hearts and become more like him. His mercy with us should move us to show greater mercy towards others (Luke 6.36). Do you think of your gifts and abilities as a way to reflect the merciful nature of God?
If I am not humbled by the great disparity between my abilities and God’s infinite power, just like the Pharisees, I will never show mercy to others. I will always emphasize what I can do and minimize God. I may appear sacrificial but only to be well-thought of by others. But humility creates perspective that helps us to see our own limitations and live in light of God’s mercy towards us.
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5.7)
Bible Reading: Matthew 10-11
There is tremendous upside to following Jesus. It is evident in Matthew's gospel that Jesus has the ability to fulfill any and every human need… but he doesn’t simply invite people to be spectators to his greatness. Jesus challenges his disciples to engage in the work with him (Matthew 10.24-25, 38). The longer people followed Jesus, the deeper he pressed them towards that commitment.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…” (Matthew 11.29). Jesus' metaphor is a challenging depiction of discipleship. A yoke was a rigid tool for linking animals together for greater strength; but it was more the instrument of discipline than of work. The yoke kept the animals from distraction or deviation, and helped keep them moving the same direction. Jesus’ call for disciples to put on his yoke sends a clear message: He expects them to be disciplined and working in tandem with him.
The yoke is about learning to conform to his way of life. Just like a yoke keeps one animal from taking a joy-ride through the weeds, Jesus’ words teach us to reject the path we want to go and walk the path towards the Father. His teaching only imposes when we are pulling away from him. If we are trying to serve Jesus, there are times when we ought to feel the discomfort from his expectations because we are trying to go a different way.
The devil wants you to think that struggle is a bad thing. He wants you to think that following Jesus should always produce positive results in your life... and the reality is, if we are not allowing the words of Jesus to teach and train us (Titus 2.11-12), we will not experience the struggle that his discipline brings. In fact, we may live comfortable lives filled with pleasure and enjoyment... but we will never find rest.
That’s Jesus’ point. We can hustle all we want and live how we want, but without him we will experience no lasting value from our efforts (Matthew 11.28). Only in working and walking with him do we find purpose and peace.
The choice to follow Jesus must be a balanced decision, that does not overemphasize his work or negate our involvement. He expects us to work, but he does not force us to put on the yoke. However, when we submit to Jesus and learn from him, we find what our soul truly desires.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11.29).
Bible Reading: Matthew 8
Men of power are typically known for their egos, not their humility. However, in Matthew 8 we see a Roman centurion – a man of great power – approach Jesus and beg for help (Matthew 8.5). He is so humbled by the power of Jesus that he does not even feel worthy to have Jesus come to his house (Matthew 8.8).
Historically, centurions were common men who worked their way up through the ranks and established themselves as leaders. Their authority was such that they could tell people what to do and it would be done, no questions asked (Matthew 8.9). And so, for this man to appeal to Jesus implies he recognizes a greater authority.
The lesson in this story is found in Jesus’ response to this man. Jesus equates the centurion’s understanding of authority to his faith. “[Jesus] marveled and said… “with no one in Israel have I found such faith!”” (Matthew 8.10). Why is that? It’s because respect for the authority of Jesus is fundamental to faith.
Authority is a negative word in our Western society. In fact, in 21st century America, to imply that someone has power to tell me how to live my life is almost un-American! However, the negative attitude towards authority is ignorant and unnecessary. If we value freedom, we must also appreciate the fact that you can't offer freedom without the power to do so.
In our walk of faith, the authority of Jesus is critical to the freedom from sin we desire. Jesus has been given "all authority in heaven and on earth…” (Matthew 28.18), but, like the centurion, we must recognize his power, and be humble enough to submit to it. Do we realize what it means to be under the authority of Jesus?
I fear that our American ideals often devalue the need for authority, and that bleeds over into our faith. We read the scriptures more like suggestions than commands from our king… but Jesus’ power to tell men what to do is paramount to any other authority. We cannot take solace in the grace he gives if we do not demonstrate that we respect his authority to offer it!
Our faith is demonstrated when we humbly submit to the authority of Jesus. This means when he says “Go”, we go; when he says, “Do this”, we do it. This means when we read the words of Jesus, we don’t take them as suggestions but as commands from our king, for our good. It is not enough to read the words of Jesus, say “Amen” and move along unchanged. If Jesus is your Savior and your King, he deserves your respect and obedience.
When you read the words of Jesus, are you looking for your marching orders or are you reading for pleasure? Do the words of Jesus significantly impact your decisions and your life? He has authority to tell us what to do… and we must take that seriously.
Bible Reading: Matthew 5-7
In ancient Hebrew culture, kings were considered living examples of the law, meaning they taught what it meant to follow the law through both teaching and example. However, reading through the Kings and Chronicles you see most of Israel’s kings failed miserably to fulfil this charge and honor God’s standards. There was a clear need among God’s people for a leader who would lead them “with the Lord at their head” (Micah 2.13). Within the context of Jewish history, Jesus’ perfection to the law doesn’t simply highlight his obedience; it also demonstrates his Divine kingship.
One of Matthew’s key themes is that Jesus is the “son of David… the king” (Matthew 1.1, 6), and his kingdom is good news for everyone (Matthew 4.23)! As we read the Sermon on the Mount this week (Matthew 5-7), it is important to do so in the context of Jesus as King because it puts authority behind these words. It’s not “The Suggestion on the Mount” … This is the decree of the King telling HIS expectations for citizens of HIS kingdom. If we are to follow Jesus, and claim him as our Lord and Savior, that means we must...
1. Submit to his authority. Citizens of any kingdom must operate within the parameters of the what the leadership says. The Sermon on the Mount is intended to give kingdom citizens a path to follow. There is an implied imperative that we obey the words of Jesus, but we must realize that our submission to his authority is really our greatest need. We need a king who does what is best for us. We need a king who perfectly practices what he preaches. We need a king who leads us closer to our Father by showing us the way… and Jesus is that King!
2. Practice righteousness. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5.20). I think many tend to be averse to this thought, because it implies that we can create righteousness on our own, which we cannot (Philippians 3.9). But his point in telling us to “practice righteousness” is that we mimic his perfect example, and we listen to what he says to help guide us in doing that. Of course, we must do it in the proper spirit (Matthew 6.1), but if we do not practice what our King expects, who are we serving? (1 John 3.4-10)
Jesus’ words ought to humble us when we realize how short we fall of his expectations… but they also should empower us because Jesus thinks we can do better… And he knows we can do better! When Jesus says, “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5.48), he doesn’t mean something unattainable like a completely sinless life, but rather that we should be growing and maturing by submission and practice. Jesus is encouraging us to do our very best and be our very best as citizens of the kingdom. That is the lifestyle of a citizen of the kingdom.
Are you doing your very best to follow the King?
Bible Reading: Matthew 3
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3.1-2)
You would think the introduction of Jesus’ kingdom would involve a little more tact. No one likes to be told “Admit you are wrong and change.” That’s never been an easy sell. It’s much easier to get a crowd by glazing over the repentance part of faith. But as John declares the coming of Jesus’ rule and reign, he cuts right to the heart of the matter: Following Jesus demands a change, and it starts when people decide to make a change.
Repentance literally means you change your mind. It is significant that at the beginning of this gospel, both John (Matthew 3.1) and Jesus (Matthew 4.17) set the precedent for what is important in the coming kingdom, by pointing to repentance.
But this was not something new. All throughout the Bible we see people being called to repentance. God, Jesus, Paul, the Prophets, etc. all were involved in clearly communicating the need for men and women to repent. The message of the gospel is not some new way of thinking that expects nothing from believers, and it doesn't simply suggest people live rightly. We have not heard all that God wants to say to us unless we have heard his command to repent. As Luther said, “All of a Christian’s life is one of repentance.” It’s a deception to think that we will ever reach a place in our lives where we do not need moments of repentance. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1.8).
In his address to the religious people, John goes on to say, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (3.8) implying that repentance is an ongoing discipline one must practice. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (3.10). If we do not cultivate a habit of repentance, we tread a dangerous line that leads to separation from God and judgment (Hebrews 10.26-31), and in the end, those who do not repent will be eternally separated from God (Revelation 9.20-21).
I don't share these things to suggest that we live in a constant state of fear before God, but rather that we see clearly the need to repent. It is a command given by the Lord himself (Matthew 4.17) to lead us into his kingdom. On a practical level, repentance promotes humility and helps us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to (Romans 12.3). It reminds us of the great mercy and patience God shows for us. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
God’s desire is that we all would reach repentance. He’s not slow. He does not delay. He knows exactly what He’s doing, and His character more and more in the Bible reveals just how much He loves us. But we must decide to be different.