Bible Reading Blog
BIBLE READING: Matthew 26
“Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (Matthew 26.31)
In Matthew 26.26-29, Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper. It was an intimate occasion Jesus deliberately chose to spend with his friends. But this meal was not a festive formality. He used this time to say some very direct things to his friends. In fact, just prior to their partaking, he had announced to them that someone would betray him... even looking Judas in eyes and telling him to do his work quickly (John 13.27).
Jesus knew what was coming. He knew Judas had already made his plans (Matthew 26.14-16). He knew even his closest friends were going to abandon him in this critical moment. Jesus knew all that was coming, and he didn’t keep it a secret. What a convicting thing to have Jesus look you in the eyes and tell you your sin (Matthew 26.25).
Sandwiched between these two confrontations Jesus sat down to eat with his friends. This context speaks powerfully to what the Lord’s supper memorial should include as we participate each week.
Yes, we are supposed to do this in remembrance of Jesus (Luke 22.19). He was focused, steadfast and immovable even though he knew what was about to happen. But it’s not just about us remembering him; we must also examine ourselves in light of what he did (1 Corinthians 11.28). The Lord’s supper is a time of personal evaluation. We will falter and fail miserably. We too will betray and deny and fall away from Jesus at times.
Jesus already knows that. His word calls us to account, and we are often aware of our failures. But sandwiched in between his words of conviction is this memorial that we participate in. It reminds us that even though he knows our sins and shortcomings, he still went to the cross and suffer for them. Our fellowship with Jesus is in “the light” of this communion (1 John 1.7). While we were enemies of his, dead in our trespasses and sins, he made us alive together with him (Romans 5.6-9). At one point in our lives, we didn’t realize that. The disciples didn’t fully realize it in this moment. But as they did afterwards, we too reflect on the choices Jesus made: to go to the cross to die for us; and it ought to change us.
The Lord’s supper is a necessary and needed remembrance we do each week. It is a time for us to reflect on who we will be in light of what Jesus has done. But we have a choice. Will we respond like Judas and wallow in our sin and shortcomings? Or will we respond like Peter: Weeping bitterly for our sins and choosing to repent and be different?
BIBLE READING: Matthew 13
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13.44)
The kingdom of heaven is depicted as something of surpassing value. Somebody put that treasure in the ground because they knew its value and tried to secure and protect it. When discovered, there was no doubt it was worthy of this man’s attention and efforts to get it.
Throughout this chapter Jesus stresses in every possible way that the kingdom of heaven is worth everything that we have. Jesus was constantly confronting people with this truth: You must count the cost and understand there is a trade involved. (Matthew 8.18-ff; 19.16-21; Luke 9.23; 18.18-ff). Calling on people to sacrifice is not popular today. Yet it has always been part of real service and devotion to God. From the time of Cain and Abel man has been called to give up whatever the Lord calls for to serve him.
Do we see the value of the kingdom of heaven? As reasonable as the bible tries to make it, many are blind to the real value of what the kingdom offers. Jesus would quote the prophets: many will have eyes to see and not see; ears to hear and not hear (Matthew 13.15; cf. Isaiah 6.10).
To make faith work you must have this mindset: heaven is worth it all. If you don’t feel that way, you’re going to struggle, plain and simple. Our attitude must be, “here’s the treasure I’ll do whatever it takes to get it.
To accomplish this, we must realize we can’t own every treasure. Jesus says, in effect, you can own a lot of lesser pearls or one great pearl. You can possess a lot of minor things, or you can give them all up for a single field and what is contained there. You can’t have it all. Something had to go. Otherwise, why would this man sell all his stuff? He saw the value and realized what it would take to get it.
We don’t get this because we live in a culture where we can have our cake and eat it. We live in excess, and we think we can have everything we want. But I think this parable is trying to impress on us that this ONE treasure is greater than all things.
It’s an amazing offer but we must understand what happens next. The who found the treasure is no longer looking but owns what he has found. If we have found the value of being citizens of the kingdom, we need to own it. We need to do whatever it takes to own it. We need to let that find be the defining moment of our lives.
“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” (Mark 8.36)
BIBLE READING: Zechariah 7-8
“Now the people of Bethel had sent… men to entreat the favor of the LORD, saying… “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”” (Zechariah 7.3)
Israel was trying to get it right this time. They knew Babylonian captivity was a result of their unfaithfulness. They had suffered in destruction and exile. They knew changes need to be made. They knew God would be pleased with nothing less than their devoted obedience.
In their effort to return to God, they reinstated many practices that had been neglected. But, even with previously established patterns, they did not want to presume upon God’s wishes for them. In Zechariah 7, they specifically asked Zechariah if this fast was what the LORD wanted from them (7.3). Ultimately, God tells them yes (8.18-19); but not before he asks them a soul-searching question: were you doing it for me? (7.5)
They had performed this fast for years, even during captivity… but was it really for God? The implication is clear: Their obedience was important; but it could not simply be about going through the motions. The fast should have developed an attitude of mercy and kindness, leading them to serve others in need (Zechariah 7.9-10). Ultimately, God wanted his people to understand the purpose of the fast was not to appease him but to change their hearts desire (7.10b).
God was not trying to pour salt in the wound of their failures; he was trying to position them to do these things properly. Obedience must always be done mindful of the One who had given it to them. The feasts and fasts by themselves were of no value but were always intended to affect the heart of the worshipper.
We can easily do all the right things in our worship but miss the point. Worship is about God. This isn’t to say God is somehow incomplete if we fail to make it about him. He doesn’t need the processes or the sacraments. They are important insofar as they lead to humble obedience as we focus our attention on God. It’s all about him.
If worship does not honor God, it is not worship. If worship is not an obedient response to God, it is not worship. Like these people, we must connect how worship should produce an attitude of righteousness and kindness and mercy towards our fellow man. As we bend our will to honor God, worship changes us because we then see ourselves and the world more clearly.
There is a strong warning for us as a group: We must not only consider how God wants us to worship, but we must constantly be evaluating whether what we offer is honoring God. If we put too much confidence in our righteous actions, we may become like the Pharisees and think more of ourselves then we should. If we become flippant in our worship, we disrespect his worthiness. In every act of worship, we must ask ourselves, “is it for God?”
BIBLE READING: Zechariah 1
“Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? (Zechariah 1.5)
A previous generation failed, and the consequences were evident. Captivity and destruction, just as God had promised. God was angry with them, not for one specific sin but for the deafness of their ears. He had called and they would not listen. He had spoken and they would not pay attention (Zechariah 1.4b). They were not unaware: God sent many prophets with the same message. The law was written down for them to see plain as day. They were simply unmoved by what they heard.
Those people died. The prophets who warned them died. Everything that God revealed came to pass. But something stuck around for the next generation. “…my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?” (Zechariah 1.6a).
These people knew and had seen the outcome of God’s warnings through the prophets. God’s desire, expectation, and judgment remained –the same as it was for the previous generation— as motivation for the next. It would with certainty overtake them as well. Now what would they do with it? They took it seriously and repented (Zechariah 1.6b).
A challenge we all have is learning to listen. Children struggle with it as they become more independent. They have a will and a way that seems right to them. They are convinced that getting their way is best. This tends to become more pronounced as they get older. With wisdom and age, we expect children will learn and become more receptive to wisdom. When that doesn’t happen, it is evident that is not how it should be. We were not designed to remain as immature, stubborn children.
Sadly, we don’t always have the same expectations for spiritual development. Many people plateau in their spiritual growth and become dull of hearing (Hebrews 5.11). They fail to see the serious nature of daily obedience and sensitivity to God’s word because they’ve already been saved. But that misses the point. God doesn’t want us to be obedient—he wants us to be receptive to him.
We are given the same admonition as these folks: Don’t be like those previous generations (1 Corinthians 10.6-12); Listen up and do what you know is right, today (Hebrews 3-4; James 4.16). God’s word is firmly fixed (Psalm 119.89), but we can be numbed by the distance between the present and these moments of judgment. We must understand these stories are given so we would be warned and beware.
God’s word will overtake all of us without exception. His judgment will come and those who have not listened will be no different than these generations of the past (2 Peter 2-3). We must trust what God has revealed and let it motivate us to urgency and repentance. Furthermore, when you and I are long gone, his words will remain in place for the next generation. Because they are eternal, they will be in judgement with us, either for approval or condemnation (John 12.48). As the writer of Hebrews aptly said, “Let us not refuse him who is speaking to us.” (Hebrews 12.25)
BIBLE READING: Philippians 3
“…I have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more… but whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3.4-7)
A friend of mine joined a support group for people dealing with addictions. At each meeting they always started with an introduction: “My name is ___ and I’m dealing with ___” He talked about how, at first, it was good for him to admit his struggle. But over time it felt like he was just identifying with his problem rather than getting rid of it. If he wanted to move on, he needed to let go of his past failures and adopt a new identity.
The same is true in our walk of faith. In Christ we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17), but things from our past sometimes linger. Following Christ requires a radical change of thinking that can be incredibly difficult to adopt (Philippians 2.3-5). For some, failure can feel like an inevitable identity. But one of the great promises of God is that when we turn away from sin, he forgives our past and empowers our future (Hebrews 8.12; 1 John 1.9).
However, even as we mature, there are habits and attitudes that can remain because they are justified by our identity. For instance, our lack of love can be justified by a commitment to truth. We’re not all bad, we’re just not doing everything perfectly. We cannot be satisfied with this “lesser of two evils” attitude. We need to be resolute in changing any area of life inconsistent with the nature of God.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2.20). We must appreciate Paul’s word choice here: he describes his actions in the strongest possible terms. He had brutally executed his former self and left it behind for something of surpassing worth (Philippians 3.13-14). Notice that Paul doesn’t enumerate his past to wallow or boast. Instead, he does it to identify what he is getting rid of.
We are not always mindful of who – or rather whose— we are choosing to be. We need to understand our identity is important to God. On the day of judgment, He will say to many “I never knew you” (Matthew 7.23). But to those who choose to know him, He will welcome them home (Matthew 25.34). If you were to die today what would God say about you?
In Christ, we are given a new and wonderful identity. By the grace of God, we are children of the king, heirs of the promise, and conquerors over whatever comes our way. That is our identity if we choose it. But we must get rid of excuses and be who we need to be today.
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3.8)