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Follow the King

Monday, March 18, 2019

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 the Jews 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 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?

Change Your Mind

Monday, March 11, 2019

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.

The Most Boring Part of the Bible

Monday, March 04, 2019

Bible Reading: Matthew 1

Genealogies have to be some of the most boring parts of the Bible. So and so begot so and so... on and on. (That’s why we chose it for week one of our bible reading, right?) But genealogies aren’t simply verses for us to skip over. They document people and events throughout history that have significance to our faith and our hope. Consider these lessons we learn about God from the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:

Genealogies show us...

God’s promises. In Genesis 12, God made a promise to Abraham that got the ball rolling for “all nations to be blessed” (Genesis 12.3). This promise wasn’t just for Israel; this promise was for everyone to have hope of reconciliation with God. It should be no surprise that Matthew starts the genealogy with Abraham. He wants the readers to remember that promise and see how God fulfilled that promise through Christ.

God’s plan. As part of his promises, God preserved and protected the lineage of Abraham and David through which Christ would come (Genesis 12; 2 Samuel 7; Acts 2.30). In a subtle way Matthew’s genealogy tells the story that brings us to Christ. By referencing specific characters, he is reminding us that there were times when it seemed like their story was over and all hope was lost... but God was behind the scenes orchestrating his plan to bring Jesus. The plan should encourage us because it demonstrates that God is faithful to his promises.

God’s patterns. Notice the detail given at the end of the genealogy: between each major patriarch and event were 14 generations (Matthew 1.17). Why does this information matter? It shows us the way God works is not random. There was a pattern to his work through Jesus that was logical and systematic. God wasn’t making decisions on a whim. He purposed before the foundations of the world how the plan would play out (1 Timothy 1.9; 1 Peter 1.19-20) and Paul tells us that “when the fullness of time came” God sent the Christ (Galatians 4.4; Ephesians 1.10). We may not always perceive God's patterns in the moment, but in hindsight they show us God’s intentionality and forethought.

God’s purpose. As Matthew concludes his genealogy, he definitively states that “Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1.16). Christ is not Jesus’ last name - it is a title signifying his purpose. “Christ” comes from a Greek word meaning “chosen one” or “anointed one”. Throughout history God revealed that he would be sending a chosen one, to “set the captives free” (Isaiah 61.1), and every book of the Bible points to the fact that someone is coming. Matthew’s designation of “Jesus, who is called Christ” sets the course of his narrative as he demonstrates that Jesus is that someone, who came into the world to fulfill God’s purpose and to save sinners (1 Timothy 1.15).

Bargaining with God

Monday, February 25, 2019

Bible Reading: Psalm 100

Have you ever made a bargain with God? Have you ever said, “If you’ll just do this one thing for me… I’ll serve you completely.” We often find ourselves uttering these words in desperate situations when we realize things are outside our control.

Several years ago, my dad had to be rushed to the emergency room. His gall bladder was infected, and because of some preexisting health conditions, the options for addressing it were limited. The doctors prepared for surgery but were not optimistic about the outcome. I remember vividly the emotion as I prayed fervently that if God would heal him, I would live differently. I would trust Him deeper, I would serve Him more, I would just do better…

In that moment I had no other choice but to cry out for God’s help, and He mercifully brought my dad through surgery with the best possible outcome. But His goodness and faithfulness had nothing to do with the bargain I made with him. I made a commitment… but you know what? I haven’t always kept it. I am fickle and inconsistent and any bargain I could have made with God was destined to fail (Romans 3.23). 

But God is not that way. The writer of Psalm 100 tells us that the LORD is “steadfast” and “faithful to all generations” (Psalm 100.5). The nature of God is that He does not behave conditionally. Certainly, the faithful and righteous person can affect God’s attitude (Exodus 32.11-14; James 5.16), but at the end of the day, God is sovereign and good. He will work in a way that will be best for us (Romans 8.28) and will glorify His perfect nature. Regardless of what we think God is or isn’t doing in our lives, we have no place to put conditions on our praise or thanksgiving to God.

“Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100.3)

We must make a resolution in our lives that, whether good or bad, we know that the LORD, He is God. That it is He who made us, and He is a good God – faithful and steadfast. In some situations, praise may not seem like the appropriate response, but as Job reminds us, “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21), and “Should we receive good from God and should we not receive evil?” (Job 2.10)

This resolution is challenging to say the least, but the encouragements to praise Him in Psalm 100 are unconditional. If we believe that the Lord is God; that He exists and He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11.6), then we must be people who give thanks in every moment. Have you given thanks to God today?

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100.4-5).

What Makes You Significant?

Monday, February 18, 2019

Bible Reading: Psalm 73

There are some things in life I may never understand… like how “Survivor” and “The Bachelor” can be some of the biggest shows on television. Don’t get me wrong I understand their draw… These shows are entertaining because they are “unscripted”, spontaneous, and relatable; but it appears to me that the real draw of reality television is that ordinary people can become so important that millions will watch them.

Think about… shows like “The Biggest Loser”, “America’s Got Talent” and “Top Chef” give people – just like you and me – a chance to be celebrities. It is my belief that reality shows have become so popular because as viewers, we can relate to the characters, and somewhere in the back of our minds we think, “That could be me.”

Maybe becoming a celebrity isn’t at the top of your list… but at our core we all desire to feel significant. And much like the reality television craze, our “ideal” of what that looks like is motivated by what we see in the lives of those around us. This is nothing new: the psalmist Asaph struggled with this as he observed the people around him.

“… I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pains in their death, their body is fat and pampered. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind.” (Psalm 73.3-5, AMP)

Asaph wanted what these people had. He looked at their lives and thought, “That’s it.” But then he realized something: the things that made these people significant were all temporary. “They are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!” (Psalm 73.19). As Asaph considered the result of their lifestyle (73.17) he understood that significance doesn’t come from what you own, how you look, or even what other people think of you—it comes from knowing God and living in light of eternity. “…those who are far from you will perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.” (Psalm 73.27)

When was the last time you considered what makes you feel significant? Are you motivated by recognition from others? Do you want more than anything to be accomplished in your career? How important to you is the house you live in, the clothes you wear, or the relationships you keep? Do you want the life that others have, or are you content with knowing that God is faithful to those who are faithful to him? When it is all said and done, “our heart and our flesh will fail”, but God will not (73.26).

As you ponder what truly makes you significant, consider Asaph’s conclusion to the matter: “…for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73.28)

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