Matthew 28

Congratulations, after you read Matthew 28, you’ll have read the first book of the New Testament all the way through.

After some very long chapters covering the final week of Jesus’ life in detail, Matthew wrapped up his account of the ministry of Christ very rapidly. Jesus’ dead body was hastily prepared for burial and buried on Friday afternoon because the Sabbath was coming. Remember that in the Jewish world a day begins at sundown the night before. So, Friday evening is when the Sabbath begins.

Mary & Mary came to give Jesus’ body a more thorough embalming (v. 1). When they came to the tomb, the did not find Jesus there; instead, they found an angel who informed them about his resurrection (vv. 2-7). Then they saw Christ risen and received instructions to pass on to Jesus’ disciples (vv. 8-10). The men who were supposed to guard Jesus’ tomb concocted a story to explain his disappearance (vv. 11-15), Meanwhile, Jesus and his disciples met up in Galilee where they received final instructions from him. Note that Matthew didn’t record or describe the ascension of Christ into heaven; he ended his Gospel with the last words of Jesus.

The last words of Jesus, the famous “Great Commission” begins with a reminder of Christ’s authority in verse 18: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” This authority belonged to him all along because he is the creator of all things. When humanity rebelled against God in the garden of Eden, Satan began a titanic struggle to wrest control of God’s creation. Although millions worship and serve him and the kingdoms of this world operate largely under his moral control, when Jesus rose from the dead he accomplished two other things in addition to securing our salvation.,

  1. Christ began the redemption of his creation when he rose from the dead. Romans 8:19-23 describes the fact that, when Christ returns and establishes his kingdom, creation will be redeemed. By rising from the dead, Jesus re-asserted his Lordship over creation and demonstrated his power to redeem it.

  2. Christ began the process of establishing his kingdom when he rose from the dead. Christ’s kingdom has not yet been established, but he is gathering citizens into it through the gospel. His command to the disciples in verses 19-20 to “make disciples, baptizing them... and teaching them” all flow from the truth of verse 18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The reason why we go to “all nations” is that Christ is Lord over all nations. His kingdom will supersede all human governments (see Rev 11:15). The laws of earthly governments mean nothing if they seek to restrict the spread of the gospel because Jesus has all authority over them.

These are Christ’s final words to his disciples and they remain our responsibility until he comes and finishes what he began to establish his kingdom. What is your role in this and how can you use the place the Lord has put you to help all of us, as his followers, be obedient to this commission?

Matthew 27

Today’s reading is Matthew 27.

At the end of Matthew 26, Jesus faced a religious trial. The religious leaders of Judaism investigated and convicted Jesus of blasphemy (vv. 63-65). By admitting that he was “the Son of God” (v. 63b) Jesus agreed that he shared God’s nature, making himself equal with God.

Here in chapter 27, Jesus was handed over to Pilate to face a criminal trial. It was against Jewish law to claim to be God but it was not against Roman law to make that claim. The accusation against Jesus pivoted, then, from his claim to be the Son of God to his claim to be the Christ (or Messiah)--the King of the Jews (vv. 11-12). Rome took this seriously because Caesar, the Roman king, did not want countries like Israel that were under his authority to rebel. It was blasphemous to claim to be the Son of God; that could get you excluded from the synagogue and the temple. It was treasonous, however, to claim to be the King of the Jews. That charge was brought against Jesus so that the Romans would put him to death.

Pilate, however, was skeptical. Verse 18 says, “For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.” Their prosecution of Jesus was to protect their own interests as Jewish leaders. Pilate even called them out for wanting to kill an innocent man (vv. 23-24). Consider how chilling that is; the religious leaders of Judaism preferred to take an innocent man’s life over losing some of their influence and power over the Jewish people.

The sinful desire for power caused a few ungodly religious men to put the Son of God, the King of Israel, to death. But although it was their desire and decision to kill him (v. 25), all of it happened under the grand plan of God to buy us out from our subjection to sin and death. Christ died as our atonement for sins. The tearing of the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (v. 51) showed that Christ was offering himself as the once for all sacrifice for human sins. The temporary resurrection of Jewish believers testified to his power to give new life (vv. 52-53). This is why Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are so important to our faith. Because Jesus died, we can have new life because he took the penalty for our sins. Those who should have accepted and welcomed Jesus put him to death. By his death, God gave us new life so that we accepted and welcomed Jesus as our Savior and Lord.

So, let’s serve him today through the power and new life he gave us.

Matthew 26

Today we’re reading Matthew 26.

Matthew continued to chronicle the week of Jesus’ crucifixion and, in verses 1-2, Jesus warned the disciples that it was coming. While the religious leaders conspired together to execute him (vv. 3-5) and Judas came forward to betray him (vv. 14-16), Jesus was anointed by one of his followers (vv. 6-13), observed the Passover with his disciples (vv. 17-30), predicted Peter’s betrayal (vv. 31-35), and moved to the place where it would all begin--Gethsemane (v. 36).

It seems amazing to me that Jesus told the disciples multiple times that he would be betrayed and crucified. One of them is here in verses 1-2 and that prediction told them when to start looking for it to happen. Despite all these predictions, the disciples were completely unprepared. Why? Did they think Jesus was just being paranoid or dramatic? Who knows. What we do know is that Jesus was in deep anguish (v. 38) and the disciples he asked to pray for him were too tired to do what Jesus asked them to do (vv. 40-41, 43-45).

In verse 39, Jesus spoke to the only one who could truly understand and truly care. He prayed, “may this cup be taken from me.” The “cup” in biblical prophecy was the cup of God’s wrath. Jesus was not afraid of the pain of crucifixion; he was dreading the fact that he was about to become cursed by God the Father. The eternal fellowship that the three persons of God had enjoyed for eternity would be broken--temporarily--as Christ became the object of God’s wrath against us.

When the Bible tells us that God loves us, that he demonstrated true love by dying for us, it is impossible for us to understand how difficult and costly that love was. It was unfathomably offensive for the holy one of God to become a sin offering for us. It was unbelievable that one of the three persons of God would be disfellowshipped for a time from the Father and Spirit. Yet it was absolutely necessary if any one of us were to be saved. Christ’s love is the only reason he went through with the cross. His love for us caused the triune God to will for the death of the son. It was a bitter cup, for sure, the most vile thing that any person has ever experienced. But Jesus did that for us.

Give thanks again for the sacrifice of our Lord. Not one of us would do what he did but he did it because of his great love for us.

Praise God!

Matthew 25

Today we’re reading Matthew 25.

Christ continued to prepare the disciples for the future here in Matthew 25 by describing his coming kingdom using three parables:

  • The Parable of the Ten Virgins calls us to be prepared, watching and waiting for Christ’s return (vv. 1-13).
  • The Parable of the Talents teaches us to be productive with what God has given us, not just be happy to preserve his gifts to us (vv. 14-30).
  • The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats instructs us to help the needy around us as if we were giving assistance to Jesus himself (vv. 31-46).

Let’s focus on that last one and notice that those who are stingy toward the poor and homeless will be sent to hell (vv. 41-46).

[Pause, and let that sink in.]

I don’t know about you, but I find Christ’s words there to be very sobering. I was raised to tithe and have never had any struggle with obedience in that area, but that doesn’t mean that generosity in other areas is easy for me. It is easy for me to give to people in our church who have needs. I know them, so I am naturally inclined to help. But, when it comes to complete strangers who have needs, it is much harder for me to give. Behind my stinginess there are a lot of excuses--what if they use the money I give them to buy drugs or booze? What if they are begging to avoid working and also collecting welfare, too? If I let them stay at my house, will they steal from me or hurt my family? Some of these are legitimate questions and we should try to help people responsibly--not enabling them or putting ourselves at risk of being exploited. But I’m much more likely to turn away from a legitimate need than to be so generous that someone might exploit me. My instincts are selfish but Jesus says that his followers will be generous. That’s the takeaway from this passage: Do we want to hoard cash and stuff for ourselves or, since we are merely managers of God’s stuff (vv. 14-3), are we learning and desiring to assist others in need because we love Christ and see generosity as a pathway for serving him?

I can’t leave this devotional behind without saying something else: a lot of people apply passages like this one by calling on the government to help the needy. Their interpretation is that obedience demands that we pay more in taxes so that more government programs can be set up and funded for the poor. There are practical reasons why I think that’s a terrible application of this passage. So much money earmarked by the government for the poor inevitably goes to pay government employees to design and manage programs. But beyond the usual complaints of “waste, fraud, and abuse” which I think are legitimate, Jesus’ parable talks about person-to-person giving, not indirect giving through the government. Furthermore, he wants us to give willingly, from the heart, not because federal agents with guns threaten us with fines and jail time if we don’t pay up. So, I reject the argument that this passage demands a government application.

Still, let’s not allow the political stuff to let us off the hook. Jesus clearly taught that a sign that you are a genuine follower of his is that you are genuinely generous when you get the chance to help others. I’m asking God to help me grow in this area and to be ready today if a need presents itself to me. Hope you’ll do the same or at least consider how to apply this parable in your life as a Christian.

Matthew 24

Here’s a link to [Matthew 24] ( Read it.

Now then, Matthew 24 begins with the disciples being much too impressed by Herod’s temple (v. 1). Remember that this chapter continued Matthew’s description of the passion week, the week which ended in Christ’s crucifixion and burial. Already this week, the disciples witnessed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt 21:1-11). They saw him bounce the merchants from the temple, refute and then rebuke the religious leaders of Israel (Matt 21:12-. After seeing all of this, I can’t help but think the disciples were anticipating a revolution that would result in Christ becoming king of Israel. As his disciples, they would have control over Israel’s culture, politics, and worship, so these magnificent buildings would be under their control. “Isn’t it going to be great, Jesus, when we have control of all this majestic beauty?” That seems to me to be the mood of the disciples in verse 1.

Bursting their euphoric bubble, Jesus told them not to get too attached to it all because it would all be leveled someday (v. 2). Verse 3 tells us the setting for the rest of this chapter was “the Mount of Olives.” This is a hill just outside the city of Jerusalem and it provides a sweeping, impressive view of the oldest part of Jerusalem, including the temple area. If you’ve heard people talk about “The Olivet Discourse,” they are talking about this chapter, Matthew 24. Here Jesus spoke prophetically about what would happen to Israel at some future time.

Christians still debate about whether these prophecies have been fulfilled or not. At least one of these prophecies, the one about the destruction of the temple in verse 2, certainly has been fulfilled already. It happened in AD 70 when the Jews went to war against the Roman empire and the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, including the temple. What is still debated is whether or not any or all of the rest of these prophecies has been fulfilled historically or if they are still to come. The answer you come to on that question is intricately tied to your views on other New Testament prophecies about the end times and this devotional is not the place for me to get into all that.

The final paragraph of this chapter is very appropriate for a devotional like this one. There Jesus encouraged us to act like “the faithful and wise servant” (v. 45a). If we see our lives as a stewardship, an opportunity to faithfully do what God commanded and called us to do, there will be eternal rewards in store for us (v. 47). If, however, we doubt that Jesus is coming or presume that his coming a long ways off, that is a sign of unbelief and, despite our claims to follow Jesus, we will fall under his judgment because of our lack of faith (vv. 48-51).

As a much younger man, newly married to Suzanne and early in my seminary training, I worked with a guy who was very, very interested in Bible prophecy. He was training me to work the overnight shift in a hotel, so there was a lot of time when we were sitting around with very little work to do. Since I was in seminary, he was very interested in talking to me about the end times. But if I asked him about his church attendance or his walk with Christ or why he was living with a woman and having children with her, I hit a conversational brick wall. Bible prophecy and the end times are valid and important subjects for us as Christians to study and understand. If we study and understand them, however, without them causing us to live as better managers of our lives on this earth for God’s glory, we are missing the point. Jesus calls us to be ready for his return but being ready for his return requires diligently living according to his commands. This passage, then, is an opportunity for each of us to think about our lives. Where do we put our time and attention and money? Do we put them in things that will grow us in our faith and holiness, in things that will extend the message of the gospel and thus expand God’s kingdom? Or are we wasting the time that we have living self-centeredly (v. 49)?

The master is coming; are you doing what he expects you to do until he arrives?

Matthew 23

Happy February 1 and congratulations on completing 1/12th of this reading plant. Today let’s read Matthew 23.

Today’s reading continued to chronicle the life of Christ during the week of the crucifixion. Yesterday the religious leaders took turns trying to discredit Jesus by stumping him with hard questions. Jesus turned every question back on the questioners and made them look foolish. So, Jesus was on defense and refused to allow his opponents to score any points at all. Here in Matthew 23, Jesus went on offense, warning his audience about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and teachers of the law and urging his audience not to live like these religious leaders.

Jesus was very specific in his complaints about the hypocrisy of these groups. He criticized them for:

  • not practicing what they preach (vv. 1-4).
  • doing everything for show, not from sincerity (vv. 5-12).
  • being an obstacle to God’s kingdom rather than a guide to it (vv. 13-15).
  • finding loopholes in God’s laws to exploit for their own selfish ends (vv. 16-22).
  • being scrupulous about obedience to the technicalities of the law while completely ignoring the moral and ethical commands of the law (vv. 23-24).
  • appearing squeaky-clean on the outside while being morally degenerate on the inside (vv. 25-28).
  • honoring the prophets that their ancestors killed while persecuting the prophets and teachers Jesus sent and was sending to them (vv. 29-36).

Jesus concluded with a lament that the nation he longed to redeem would be fall under his judgment instead because they rejected him in unbelief. This passage is unique among the recorded sayings of Jesus because of how unrelentingly harsh it is and how specific and lengthy it is. Although Jesus acknowledged that these religious leaders had some civil authority that required his disciples to obey them (vv. 2-3), he made it very clear that they were not his servants or subjects of his kingdom.

The portion of this chapter that stands out most to me is contained within verses 5-12. Although the religious men of his culture loved the accolades of great honor that were customarily given to them (v. 7), Jesus commanded his followers not to give titles and honor to our leaders (vv. 8-11). He could not have been clearer that Christian leaders are to be servants who serve in humility (vv. 11-12); consequently, he strictly forbid us from putting titles on each other.

Despite what Jesus clearly said, Christian leaders for centuries have demanded certain titles: Bishop Youknowwho, Pope Grande, Cardinal Soandso, Saint Bernard, and even “Father”-- the very title Jesus said not to use (v. 9). Though the elders here at Calvary felt it was important for me to be called “Pastor,” I’ve always been more comfortable just going by the name my parents gave me. Even though I have an earned doctorate, I never tell anyone to call me Dr. Jones and this passage is the reason why. We call Paul “the Apostle Paul” but he never called himself that.

I do think we should be careful about using titles in light of this passage, but the command here is less about whether you call me “Pastor Brian” or just “Brian” and more about whether I serve the Lord in order to get honor and respect from you. The Pharisees and teachers of the law wanted the social status that came from being a religious leader. They did not view themselves as servants to their disciples but as princes who taught but also demanded much from their followers. We are not immune to this temptation. Some people seek to be elders or deacons or teachers in the church because they want the respect of the people of the church. Jesus called us to remember that spiritual leadership is about service, not about self. May God help all of us to cultivate the servants heart that Jesus commanded and modeled for us, no matter what title people apply to our names or what positions of authority we occupy.

Matthew 22

Today we’re reading Matthew 22.

This chapter began with Jesus’ parable about the wedding banquet. The point of the parable was that God freely invites people into his kingdom but instead coming to his kingdom, those you would expect to be there reject the invitation and abuse those sent to invite them. In other words, the very religious Jewish leaders that people expect to be saved have in fact rejected Jesus and will suffer for it. Meanwhile, the common person will come into Jesus’ kingdom as an honored guest (vv. 9-10) provided they come clothed in the righteousness of Christ (vv. 12-13).

As if to illustrate the point, Jesus faced one encounter after another with religious leaders in Israel in the rest of this chapter. The Pharisees and Sadducees took turns trying to expose Jesus as a fraud by getting him to say something stupid. Jesus countered their rhetorical traps and exposed their self-serving tactics and lack of understanding of God’s word. At the end of today’s passage, Jesus gave the Pharisees a taste of their own medicine. He asked them a question that seemed like a softball: Whose son is the Messiah? (v. 41). They gave the predictable answer (v. 41b) and Jesus replied by quoting Psalm 110:1 in verses 43-44. The big question he called them to reflect upon was this: “If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” It is true that the title “lord” was used of human rulers and authorities. That was not Jesus’ point. But your son could never be your lord--your ruler or authority. Their culture revered fatherhood and your father was the leader of your clan until his death. So it was extraordinary for David to refer to any descendant of his as “lord.” Jesus called out this extraordinary statement in scripture to emphasize that messiah wasn’t not going to be just another man, another mere descendant of David to take his turn on Israel’s throne. No, by calling him “lord” David was giving him honor that suggested the true nature of Christ as both human and divine.

Remember that this section of Matthew records Jesus’ life during “Passion Week,” the week he was crucified. The identity of Christ is the key issue at this point. The crowd received him when he came to town, ascribing to him the title reserved for Messiah (21:1-16), calling him “Son of David” (v. 9, 16b)--the very title that is at issue here in Matthew 22:42. But the religious leaders were deeply offended that Christ received this title (Matt 21:16a). They tried again and again to show that Christ did not deserve this title and, eventually, they would conspire and kill him for receiving it because they did not truly believe in God and he threatened their religious authority.

All of this was part of the plan of God. Christ came to the Jews who should have received him but they rejected and crucified him. Instead of the crucifixion being his end, it was the beginning of his kingdom’s message spreading to the rest of the world and leading to the culmination of history. Like the invited guests from the parable in verses 1-14, the gospel goes out to many, but few respond and those who do respond are not the ones we would expect.

We don’t know how much longer God has ordained for the gospel to keep going out before Christ returns. There are still many people in the world who do not have a gospel witness. But as we wait for the wedding banquet to begin, we should be looking around us and inviting others to join. Yes, only the chosen will get in (v. 14) but God wants us to invite as many people as we can. Remember, though, that God loves to save the unexpected. The person you think will never trust Christ may be one of the very ones God has chosen. Let’s be liberal, then, in spreading the gospel message, not keeping it to ourselves but talking about Christ with as many people as we possibly can.

Matthew 21

Today’s reading is from Matthew 21.

Matthew 21 is a lengthy chapter that began detailing the week of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. This chapter describes the authority and worthiness of Christ to be king. It began with Palm Sunday where Jesus was praised and welcomed by the people as he ceremonially entered Jerusalem (vv. 1-11). The crowds called him “the prophet from Nazareth,” but in verses 12-13 Jesus demonstrated a greater authority than any prophet. Instead of inveighing (look it up) against the commercialization of worship at the temple as we would expect a prophet to do, Jesus started driving out the merchants and throwing out their stuff. This is what the owner of the temple would do, not a mere prophet.

He also demonstrated his healing power in the temple (v. 14) and received praise there (vv. 15-17), just as God would. This infuriated the temple’s leaders, but brought joy to the heart of God.

In verses 18-22 Jesus demonstrated his kingly authority over nature. His lesson on prayer in verse 22 is not about rearranging the topography of the earth; rather, his point was to teach the disciples that his power was available for them as they went out to advance his kingdom.

Ever the teacher, Jesus used these early days of holy week to deliver God’s word in the temple (v. 23a) but the religious leaders of the temple questioned his authority to do all the things he was doing in verse 23b. Jesus stumped them with a riddle (vv. 24-27), then taught them a lesson about who really pleased God (vv. 28-32). Finally, he foreshadowed his own death with another parable (vv. 33-42) and proclaimed judgment on those who considered themselves to be godly, religious men. Instead of receiving the kingdom that they claimed to be seeking, they would be rejected and the kingdom would be passed on “to a people who will produce its fruit” (v. 43b). This is a reference to believing Jews, of which there were many in the dawning days of the church but it also refers to believing Gentiles, including you and me. The phrase, “those who will produce its fruit” reminds us that kingdom productivity is God’s goal in saving us. Of course God, in love, wanted to redeem us from God’s wrath, but he wanted to do so much more than that. Christ’s mission was to produce people who were redeemed by Christ and were producing the fruit of the Spirit in us and the fruit of evangelism through us. As we start a new workweek today and go out into the world, remember that the world where we work is God’s field. He is sending us out there not just to be productive for our employer but to be productive for his kingdom. Let’s look for some ways to have kingdom conversations this week. Our king deserves it, his chosen ones need it, and we were redeemed for it!

Matthew 20

Today’s reading is Matthew 20

There are billions of people living on earth today. Those of us who live in developed countries have millions of signals clamoring for our attention. Phone calls, text messages, emails, social media, billboards, websites, tv shows, radio shows, books, magazines, newspapers, and, of course, other people in real life around us all insist that we stop whatever we’re doing and pay attention to them.

Getting attention is important. You won’t experience love without someone else’s attention, but you also won’t find a job or get promoted or generate new leads for your business or find new friends without getting others to pay attention to you. And, once you have someone’s attention, the message you convey is, “Choose me! I’m great” or “I’m more helpful” or “I’m better” in some way than the person you have now. This kind of self-selling is essential to moving up in the world.

We might be tempted to think that it is necessary to sell ourselves to God, too. After all, there are billions of people in the world and many of them are trying to get his attention. Once we’ve trusted Christ, we still may be tempted to promote ourselves within his church either to gain notoriety for ourself or our cause or to try to earn God’s favor. James and John (“the sons of Zebedee” in verse 20, see Mark 10:35) tried this. They even enlisted the help of their mother to get Jesus’ attention. And they came with a big ask: “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Wow! “Make us your vice-regents, Jesus. That’s all we’re asking for.” Talk about self-promotion.

Jesus responded by alluding to the cost of following him, namely to “drink the cup I am going to drink” (v. 22). Without knowing at all what he meant, they affirmed their ability to do the job in verse 23. Jesus knew that they would indeed suffer just as he would suffer, but he declined to appoint them to the positions they wanted (v. 23). Their request, however, miffed the other disciples and created a teaching moment for Jesus. He agreed that the way of this world is a way of self-promotion and heavy-handed authority (v. 25) but taught that this approach was inappropriate and backward in his kingdom (v. 26a). Instead of promoting ourselves, Jesus commanded us to humble ourselves. He told us that the way to advance in his kingdom was to take on the role of a slave (v. 27). When we act this way, we mirror the servant’s heart of Christ himself who acted as a slave and sacrificed his life to save us (v. 28).

We are disciples of Jesus, but we have different gifts, different callings, different opportunities and responsibilities. Living like a servant, then, means different things for each one of us. But Christ’s command to live this way should be the motivation behind what we do and the goal for whatever we do. Think about your life--your family, our church, your workplace, and everything else. What does it look like to be a servant for the Lord Jesus Christ in your life?

Matthew 19

Today’s reading is Matthew 19.

Compared to doing whatever you want to do and whatever the culture around you allows you to do, following Jesus is hard! If you want to follow Jesus you:

  • shoudn’t get divorced unless your spouse is unfaithful (vv. 1-10).
  • would be better off staying single, but that requires something unusual that isn’t for most people (vv. 11-12).
  • need to be childish in your faith, something that is really difficult to do (vv. 13-15).
  • must follow Jesus absolutely, even if he commands you to give everything you have away (vv. 16-24).
  • have to rely on God because what Jesus requires is impossible apart from his grace (vv. 25-26).

Quite a discouraging list, yes?

But what rewards Christ promised to those who trust him and follow him in obedience (vv. 27-30). This kind of submission to Christ may cause you to fall far behind in the rat race of human life. Human life, however, is over quickly; eternity,, lasts forever. Jesus promised more than fair compensation to those who follow him in this life. According to verse 29 you will get eternal life and far more, far better stuff in eternity when you actually have the spiritual capacity to enjoy created things without worshipping them.

Following Jesus in this way might make you feel like a loser in this life but expectations for this life are upside down. As verse 30 put it, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

Matthew 18

Today we’re reading Matthew 18.

The longer you live, the more you witness broken relationships. Some relationships are broken due to misunderstandings and some due to unmet expectations. Many relationships are broken by sin. People seldom consider the affect their sins may have on others. The power of temptation lures us to act based on the instinctive desires of our sinful nature. Like a fish biting a lure without ever considering the hook, most of our sins are committed with little thought about the consequences--to ourselves or others.

But often there are consequences for other people--financial damage, hurt feelings, and distrust are just a few of these. We are tempted to ignore the damage our sin has on others; if we can’t ignore it, we may try to downplay the impact it has on others or make excuses for ourselves. Sometimes we simply deny committing the sin, taking no responsibility, then, for the consequences.

Jesus knew that this is how we treat our own sins and he knew that unresolved situations would destroy the church. So here in Matthew 18 he gave us the prescription for dealing with sin in the lives of others. The first step is to confront the sin yourself (v. 15), but note the intention behind the confrontation: “If they listen to you, you have won them over” (v. 15c). Confrontation among believers is never designed to hurt someone’s feelings or to give the injured party a chance for vengeance or to vent. Jesus’ will was for loving confrontation to cause genuine repentance. Genuine repentance can clear the air and bring reconciliation to the situation. If the person who has sinned refuses to repent, Jesus told us to escalate the pressure--not by physical force or psychological manipulation but by widening the circle of people who are calling for repentance. First, this is one or two others then the entire church if necessary. Since Jesus assumed that a believer would eventually repent, if someone refused to repent after the entire church is involved, he commanded us to “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (v. 17c).

Verses 18-19 are fairly well-known among Christians, but often referred to out of context. Both of these verses affirm the spiritual power of the church in the life of an unrepentant person. Telling the church is not a mechanism for embarrassing someone. If that were the case, people would get over the embarrassment. Jesus said that those who are “bound” on earth are “bound” in heaven. This means that church’s judgment on a sinning person to remove them from the fellowship of the church is more than a human act. It is a spiritual act that God himself honors. Verses 19-20 emphasize that fact. When a group of people who belong to Christ agree that a person should repent, they do so under God’s divine guidance.

Just as there are sinners who name Christ but refuse to repent, there are also Christians who refuse to forgive others who have repented. Verses 21-35 gave us a parable about the unforgiving. As Christians, Jesus has forgiven us “bigly” as The Donald is erroneously accused of saying (vv. 24--“ten thousand bags of gold”!). Any debts that others incur against us maybe costly and painful to us, but they are far below what our sin cost God (“a hundred silver coins”). Given that, note what Jesus said in verses 34-35: “In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Wow! God will “torture” the unforgiving? What does this mean? Simply that those who claim to know Christ but refuse to forgive are not Christians at all. They are still under the wrath of God. When Christ truly comes into a person’s life, that person receives the new nature which is like God’s nature. A Christian also has the Holy Spirit who convicts us of what is right and empowers us to act like God. So, if God found it in his heart to forgive us, his forgiveness also empowers us and calls us to forgive others. An unforgiving Christian is not a Christian at all.

These are serious words but they remind us of how seriously God views our sin and how seriously he wants us to deal with it. If you have sinned, repent and seek the restoration of your relationship. If you have been sinned against, do everything you can to call the one who sinned against you to repentance in order to have the relationship restored. If someone asks for your forgiveness, deploy God’s grace to “forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (v. 35).

Matthew 17

Today, read Matthew 17.

Jesus’ disciples had heard him speak with authority unlike anyone else they had ever heard before. They saw him restore crippled limbs, make the rotting flesh of lepers as smooth as a newborn’s skin, give sight to eyes that had never seen anything, and bring the dead back to life. All of these were spectacular signs of God’s power working through Jesus. However, they had heard of prophets like Elisha doing these things.

The transfiguration of Christ, which we read about in verses 1-13, revealed the divine glory of Jesus Christ. As his face and clothing radiated light, Peter, James, and John knew they were in the presence of someone unlike anyone else who had ever lived. Then the voice of God the Father identified him directly: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (v. 5).

Although they were awe-struck by the sight of Jesus, Peter knew one thing: he never wanted to leave. That’s why he said in verse 4, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Interesting, isn’t it, that he wanted to build shelters for the three glorified men--Jesus, Moses, and Elijah--but not for himself, James, and John even though they were the three who would need shelter from the elements. As a true servant, he was unconcerned for himself and only thought about the Lord and his prophets.

Consider this if you ever wonder if eternity will be boring. Peter saw a glimpse of eternity and wanted to stay forever. How much more will we enjoy the Lord’s presence when we see our glorified Lord as we stand glorified like Moses and Elijah by his grace.

Matthew 16

Today we’re scheduled to read Matthew 16.

As Jesus lived on this earth, he healed the sick, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, fed thousands of people with one kid’s tiny lunch, explained the scriptures, told people what they were thinking without them saying a word. All of these things point to someone of extraordinary spiritual power. Yet, after doing these things--some of them many times over--the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a sign (v. 1). It is extraordinary that these two groups of people would combine forces to do this. There was more bad blood between them than between our Repubicrats and Democans yet they agreed that Jesus needed to come up with more proof to authenticate his message. Jesus denounced them; they could predict the weather based on the color of the sky but they couldn’t see that he had the power of God working through him (vv 2-4). He had done so many signs already; if they still weren’t convinced, one more or a thousand more would make no difference.

Even the disciples forgot that Jesus can make bread whenever it is needed and, thus, they missed the point of Christ’s warning about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (vv. 8-12). But, when called on by Jesus to state who he was, Peter spoke the truth (vv. 13-20) and they began to learn more of God’s plan for Jesus’ life (vv. 21-28).

Think about your own life and walk with God. Surely there are times when something happened to you that showed you that God was with you and loved you. It doesn’t take a miracle to see the power of God at work in our lives and even miracles do not expel the doubts and skepticism of unbelievers. If you’re in a place of questioning God and doubting him in some way, you may be tempted to ask God for a sign. But the greatest sign humanity has ever received was “the sign of Jonah” (v. 4), an obscure reference to the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It may feel like God has forgotten you or abandoned you or is oppressing you, but take heart--Jesus is alive and his plan is in tact. Suffering is part of living in a sin-cursed world and God’s plan for us is to live through it so that we trust him more. You don’t need a sign of God’s working in your life; you need to trust what he’s already done and walk by faith in who he is.

Matthew 15

Today read Matthew 15.

Not too many people have the guts to correct Jesus for good reasons. Being the God-man, he never makes mistakes and, therefore, never needs correcting. But here in Matthew 15 Jesus was corrected by a very unlikely person in verses 21-28.

First of all, she was a woman (v. 22). Although Christ himself talked directly to women and treated them with the same dignity he gave to men, that was not customary in his culture. So, many in Jesus’ world would have ignored or even rebuked her for what she said.

Second, she was “a Canaanite” (v. 22). Since Jesus was in the Gentile land, “the region of Tyre and Sidon” it is not surprising that there were Gentiles around. Despite her background, she came knowledgeably to Jesus calling him, “Lord, Son of David.” Clearly she had not only heard about Jesus, she had some insight into his significance.

I wrote earlier that she “corrected” Jesus and we’ll get to that in a minute. As you know, many times correction comes with a side order of superiority. People correct people often because they think they’re better informed or smarter or just better in some way than the one they are correcting. This woman did not have that spirit at all when she corrected Jesus. Instead she came asking, “have mercy on me!” (v. 22). She later kneeled before Jesus before correcting him (v. 25). As we’ll see, she had a deep, appropriate sense of humility in her approach to Jesus.

But she did correct him. Jesus did not respond to her request to deliver her daughter from demon possession (v. 23a). So, the disciples were quite annoyed with her (v. 23b) and wanted Jesus to get rid of her. Instead of rebuking her or continuing to ignore her or send her away, Jesus tenderly told her that his mission prevented him from helping her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (v. 24). This response did not dissuade her one bit. Instead, she kneeled and asked for his help (v. 25). Jesus responded with a proverb, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (v. 26). This is where she corrected him: “‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’” (v. 27). What a quick, agile mind she had! In an instant, she grasped the significance of Jesus’ enigmatic proverb, embraced the implications of it, and responded in kind. Let me break that down for you:

  • She grasped the significance of his proverb. Jesus used an analogy that elevated Jewish people and denigrated Gentiles. The “children” in this analogy are the children of Israel. So Jesus’ proverb was an indirect way of saying that she had no right to ask for his help since he was sent to Jews not Gentiles. Her response in verse 27 showed that she understood his meaning.
  • She embraced the implications of his proverb. Dogs were not thought of a great pets in Jesus’ day; instead, they were considered vile, scavenging creatures. That’s who Jesus compared her too--filthy, disgusting (from their perspective) dogs. She understood that this was a put-down.
  • She responded in kind. What I mean is that she entered into the proverb and in her response showed Jesus how his own analogy proved that he could help her if he wanted to help her. Sure, the dogs don’t sit at the table and eat off the good plates like the king’s kids do. But the kids are sloppy and drop stuff on the floor and dogs are quick to scarf up whatever they drop. So despite what Jesus said, the dogs do get to eat. They don’t eat in the same way that the king’s kids do, but those who are quick and crafty can benefit from the excess that the kids don’t eat.

Her correction of Jesus was not a rebuke nor was she pointing out that Jesus had made some kind of error. Instead, she was showing her faith in the deep mercy of God. Throughout the Old Testament, some Gentiles experienced the overflow of God’s grace. Naaman did when Elisha healed him of leprosy. Nebuchadnezzar did when God restored his sanity. The people of Nineveh did when they repented at the preaching of Jonah. Whether she knew any of these examples or not, she had deep faith in Christ and it showed in her response to Jesus. Jesus acted the way that he did toward her so that her faith would be seen by all. Her example was a preview, a foretaste, of God’s saving grace to us Gentiles.

This passage, then, should lift our hearts to worship God for his amazing grace and mercy. Although there was no covenant reason (like the Jews had) for Christ to offer us salvation, he intended for you and me to sit at the table with Abraham and his descendants and receive God’s kindness in salvation. This passage should also remind us that there is nobody on earth who deserves salvation less than you do. None of us deserves salvation; since we have received it by God’s grace, we should eagerly offer it to everyone, whether we think of them as dogs or as children.

Matthew 14

Today we’re reading Matthew 14.

John the Baptist died as he lived--outspoken about right and wrong. He lived in a society where freedom of speech was not protected by law. Though most people could speak their mind without fear of punishment, there was no guarantee--legal or otherwise--that a person would not be prosecuted or persecuted for what he or she said. The safe thing to do in a society like John’s was to keep your mouth shut about the behavior of anyone who had the power to hurt you. If you did speak about someone’s behavior or morals, it was safest to do it in private with people you could trust.

John, however, disregarded all these safeguards. Herod Archelaus (Matthew calls him “Herod the tetrarch” in verse 1) had an affair with his brother Philip’s wife Herodias. She divorced Philip to be with Herod Archelaus. Her divorce was not legally valid nor was it morally acceptable, so her marriage to Herod Archelaus was both illegal and sinful. Since Herod was in charge of Judea, however, there was nobody but Caesar, way off in Rome, who could hold him accountable. Caesar didn’t care, so Herod was able to get away with his sin. He also could harm anyone who spoke out about his sin, so there was no pressure on him at all to do the right thing.

John the Baptist did not allow Herod’s protected status or his power to keep him from speaking the truth about Herod’s sham marriage. Verse 4 told us that John confronted Herod directly (“John had been saying to him”) about his sin and called for repentance. It was costly to John personally to do this because Herod put him into prison (v. 3) and then reluctantly put him to death (vv. 6-12).

We live in a society that legally protects speech. While there are definitely those in our society who want to punish speech they dislike, for now we have legal protection to say almost anything we want to say. I don’t know about you, but I will admit that I am reluctant to say anything directly about the sins of our culture. I am not afraid to call sin what it is, but my approach has been to speak to people within our church family or those who attend our worship services about sin but not to society at large. John’s example has me re-thinking this. He was willing to speak out about a sin that everyone in his society knew about but nobody else had the courage to confront. His bravery cost him his freedom and eventually his life, but God highly approved of his message and his method.

If we are going to reach people for Jesus, we need to stand for righteousness. That requires speaking out against evil. We need to emulate the boldness of John. It is important, however, to remember that the purpose of speaking out is to turn hearts toward the forgiveness and righteousness of Jesus. It is also important to remember to speak in a way that shows gentleness and respect (see 1 Peter 3:15c). Many Christians can be downright obnoxious when speaking out against sin. That neither glorifies God nor wins a hearing for his word. So, let’s be bold but also wise about the way in which we speak.

In the interest of full-disclosure, this post by Douglas Wilson got me thinking about this application of John’s message. There are things I like about Wilson and his ministry and some things I strongly dislike about his theology. So, don’t take this as a blanket endorsement but it might be helpful for you to read his post that inspired my devotional on this text.

Matthew 13

Today we’re reading Matthew 13. Well..., I already read it but I’ll give you a minute to catch up. Go.

OK, now that we’ve both read Matthew 13 we both know that Matthew recorded some of Jesus’ kingdom parables in this chapter. I preached on the Parable of the Soils (but from Luke) a few Sundays ago. At the end of this devotional I give you a link to the audio & video of that message.

The Parable of the Soils and Christ’s interpretation of it takes up most of this chapter of Matthew, from verse 1 through verse 23. In addition to that parable, we have:

  • The Parable of the Weeds (vv. 24-30, 36-43).
  • The Parable of the Mustard Seed (vv. 31-32).
  • The Parable of the Yeast (v. 33)
  • The Parable of the Buried Treasure (v. 44).
  • The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price (vv. 45-46)
  • The Parable of the Dragnet (vv. 47-50).

The Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Dragnet have the same message--many people who look like they belong in Christ’s kingdom and think they belong in it will be excluded from it at the judgment (vv. 40-43, 49-50). The Parable of Buried Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price also have the same message and it is the one I want us to consider today.

These parables are straightforward: a man finds something valuable but under-appreciated so he liquidates everything he has--his house, his farm animals and equipment, his wife’s jewelry, the fillings in his teeth if necessary--to buy the valuable treasure or pearl of great price. And he does it “with joy” (v. 44). Wouldn’t it be a pain to get rid of everything you own and be homeless with just the clothes on your back? Yes it would, unless you were going to get something of greater value than all of that stuff.

This is what Jesus said the kingdom of heaven would be like. It is so priceless, such a treasure, that you and I should give up everything to get it. Of course, the cost of the kingdom is not paid to God. God paid the cost for your entry into the kingdom in Christ because you and I could not do it ourselves. No, the cost Jesus is referring to here is the cost of not going our own way and doing our own thing. If someone gave you an all-expenses paid trip around the world for one year, the trip is a free gift. But to experience that gift you’d have to quit your job. You might have to sell your house because you wouldn’t have any income to pay the mortgage, maintenance, taxes, etc. You would also pay a non-financial cost of missing out on things at home while you are gone. This is what Christians pay for following Christ. When we receive the free gift of salvation, we give up the right to direct our own lives. Jesus is now the boss; he decides what morals we live by and his kingdom dictates the decisions we make with our lives. This is what leads some people to literally sell everything and move to a different city or a foreign country to start churches. They understand the value of the kingdom and the joy and rewards that await so they are less focused on accumulating some material things in this life and more focused on serving Jesus in this life in order to benefit the coming kingdom of Christ.

Maybe God has put a desire in your heart to serve him in some way but the “cost” of doing so seems high. You know you’ll lose some free time that already seems in short supply. Or, you know that it will cost money or that you won’t advance in your career or whatever. Christ here calls us to consider what is truly valuable. His kingdom, his work, is so much more valuable than the cheap plastic trinkets that seem so valuable to us now. Let’s take a few moments and re-assess what we’re living for, what is important, what is worth investing in, and what is worth liquidating for the greater value of serving our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you want to watch or listen to my message on the Parable of the Soils (but from Luke 8), click here.

Matthew 12

I was lazy and didn’t actually check the schedule but I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to read Matthew 12 today.

God’s intention for the Sabbath was that man would take a day off from the way that he normally makes his living. It was to be a day of rest and a day to reflect on God, our Creator. So farmers would not plant, weed, water, reap, or do any of the normal activities that farmers do Sunday through Friday. The same was commanded for their wives and children and servants; everybody was supposed to get a break from their normal daily schedule.

This law was clear enough that it could be applied easily to most situations. Don’t farm your land, or fix your equipment, or type up those invoices, or make a fancy meal, or clean the house, or do the laundry. It was a day to rest, not to catch up on chores--work or personal. Do what needs to be done but keep it simple so you get a break and feel rested for a change. That’s the idea.

The problem with broadly-applicable commands is that it is not always clear how they should be applied. Obeying the command, “Do not work on the Sabbath” depends on how you define “work.” Is it work to make your bed? Tie your shoes? If you were a milkman who delivered milk by walking from house to house, that would clearly be forbidden on the Sabbath. But what if the milkman’s wife wanted to go for a long walk for recreation? Is that forbidden? The Pharisees hated ambiguity so they wanted every possible application of every law spelled out clearly. They specified how far someone could walk on the Sabbath to keep the milkman or his wife from doing “work” accidentally. This is one aspect of legalism.

Speaking of legalism, what exactly is it? It is a term that can be applied to at least two kinds of situations: First, anyone who thinks they can do good works to merit favor with God is a legalist. Second, anyone who thinks that his or her application of the Bible has the authority of the Bible itself is a legalist.

The Pharisees were legalists in both senses. They believed that their obedience to the law gave them favor with God. They also believed that they ways in which they applied God’s laws were as authoritative and binding as the law itself. That’s what’s going on here in Matthew 12:1-2. The disciples were not farmers. They were not working to earn a living by reaping. Instead they were getting a snack from someone else’s farmland. Taking small amounts of food from someone’s farm was allowed in God’s Law, so the Pharisees did not accuse the disciples of stealing. Instead, they accused them of working on the Sabbath. Because they applied the Sabbath law to any kind of reaping at all, they concluded that the disciples were doing what was “unlawful on the Sabbath” (v. 2b).

Elsewhere in the gospels we learn that Jesus rebuked them for distorting God’s intentions. The Sabbath law was supposed to be a blessing from God, not a burden. It was God imposing a day off on everyone so that everyone could enjoy life for at least one day a week. By denying the right to snack on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were making the Sabbath something unpleasant instead of enjoyable. Their legalism was not an obedience that pleased God, it was a burden that robbed people of the joy he wanted them to have.

Here in Matthew 12, however, Matthew records a different emphasis of Jesus regarding Sabbath violations. Jesus pointed out ways in which people broke the law technically but they did so in a way that upheld the law’s intention. The first example Jesus cited was from David (vv. 3-4). He and his warrior-companions ate the temple show bread which was against the law, yet they were not condemned. The reason was that they were servants of God doing God’s work, just like the priests were. So, technically they broke the law but by taking and eating the bread, they were being served by the law’s intention--to provide for God’s servants. Likewise, the priests on the Sabbath were technically in a no-win situation. The temple duties allowed no Sabbath breaks for the priests but the priests made their living being priests. So, they were not allowed to let the temple activities lapse even for a day but that required them to do the normal work of priests--a technical violation of the law. Yet Jesus said that “they are innocent” (v. 5b). Then Christ took things further; not only were the disciples not guilty of breaking the Sabbath by picking up a snack, Christ himself asserted the right to rule or overrule anything regarding the Sabbath because he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He then pressed the issue further by healing a man deliberately on the Sabbath day to show his lordship over it (vv. 9-14).

The Pharisees’ zeal about the Sabbath wasn’t really about obedience to God; it was about control. They wanted to define everything so that there was complete uniformity; no ambiguity or exceptions were allowed. They could, then, define who was right with God and who wasn’t based on how well or how poorly everyone kept the rules. Unfortunately, we sometimes do the same things. The “good guys” never wear denim on Sunday, or use the right translation of the Bible, or only buy American, or never listen to music that has a beat to it. But these (and other) rules are at best only applications of Biblical principles, not Biblical truths themselves. The Bible teaches us to accept each other in areas where there are genuine disagreements about application (Rom 15:7). You should never use someone else’s actions to justify doing something that your conscience bothers you about. And, if you are truly concerned for someone else’s spiritual life, I think it is good to humbly approach them to talk about how they are or are not applying a scriptural command. But let’s be careful not to judge and condemn each other based on our own man-made rules. Instead, each of us should submit ourselves and our actions to the Lord of everything--including the Sabbath--and do what we think is right in his sight based on the clear teachings of scripture.

Matthew 11

Happy Monday! It’s time to read Matthew 11.

This chapter drops some heavy truth on us. It starts with John, the greatest man ever born by natural means (v. 11). Despite his greatness, he experienced persecution. His outspoken condemnation of Herod’s marriage got him prison and ultimately death. In addition to that physical suffering, he apparently struggled (compare v. 3 and v. 6) with questions because the reality of Jesus’ ministry turned out to be different from John’s expectations about Jesus’ ministry. Jesus tenderly comforted John’s concerns (vv. 4-6), but then confronted the crowd about their wishy-washy acceptance of John’s message (vv. 7-19).

After the harsh words Jesus had for the crowds, he turned his attention to the towns who had witnessed his miracles and told them they would be punished for their unbelief after seeing his power (vv. 20-24). So, his words to those towns was harsh, too. Finally, Jesus prayed and thanked God for speaking to the humble in this world instead of the exalted and proud (vv. 25-26). Christ then commented that truth about God goes through him. You can’t know God at all apart from knowing Jesus because Jesus is the Son and revelation about God goes through him (v. 27).

All these are hard words. They were hard for John the Baptist, hard for those who rejected John’s message, hard for the towns who witnessed Jesus’ miracles but did not believe, and hard in general for a world that claims to want to know God. Every one of these things causes people to reject our faith and, in rejecting our faith, they fall under greater judgment by God.

So what do we do when God’s word is hard for us to take? When it assaults our pride or causes us to fear God’s judgment? We turn to Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (vv. 28-29). God’s word is difficult because we are sinners. It is impossible for us find God on our own, to believe God’s word on our own, and to obey God’s commands on our own. But Jesus promised rest to those who come to him. Given the context of this chapter, a big part of the meaning of “weary and burdened” seems to relate to our inability to know God on our own. When you find yourself resisting what God’s word says, struggling to believe God’s promises, or failing to keep God’s commands, your instinct will be to walk away from Christ but his invitation toward you is to come to him instead. When you come to him with your burdens, doubts, failures, frustrations, questions, concerns, or whatever, and place them before him in faith, you will find the rest he offers in verse 28. You will also find grace to bear up under the burden that you can’t carry yourself (v. 29).

Come to him.

Matthew 10

Matthew 10

Happy Friday the 13th; be thankful that superstitions are false and let’s celebrate that by reading Matthew 10 today.

So, remember yesterday how Christ commanded us to pray and ask God to send laborers into the harvest? What did Jesus do here in Matthew 10? He sent his disciples out into the harvest. This entire chapter is about that. It described Christ’s sending of the twelve (vv. 1-4) and his instructions to them about their task (vv. 5-42).

A few of Christ’s instructions in this passage are specific to this task and this group of the twelve. Specifically, his command to go only to “the lost sheep of Israel” (v. 6), the authority he gave them to do miracles (v. 1, 8), and his command not to bring anything with them (vv. 9-15).

Most of what Jesus said in this chapter, however, seems to be intended for all followers of Christ at any time. For instance, his warning of persecutions and legal problems (vv. 18-20) seems to look beyond this specific ministry assignment to how those doing evangelism in any age will be treated.

There is a lot that could be discussed here, but I want to focus on one thing Jesus said in particular. In verse 23a: “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.” I appreciate much about the ministry and teaching of Dr. John Piper 1, but this is one area where he is wrong. I have heard him more than once talk about how Christians should go to places where other Christians are being martyred and persecuted for Christ. In other words, according to Piper, we should send Christian missionaries to places that are killing Christians. If they die, so be it. But Christ here commands his disciples on mission to leave when they are met with persecution. He even commanded us to pronounce a curse on the place that persecutes us (v. 14). The direct teaching of Jesus is to trust God in persecution if it comes, but get away from it if you can.

This is the pattern we see in the book of Acts. When Herod intended to kill Peter but God miraculously delivered Peter from prison, Peter “left for another place” (Acts 12:17). When Paul and his companions were persecuted for Christ in one city, they usually left that city for another. See Acts 13:50-51 for one example of this. In that passage they even “shook the dust off their feet” in verse 51 just as Jesus commanded here in Matt 10:14. So I think it is wrong for Piper to encourage missionaries to go where there is persecution because his advice is contrary to the teaching of Jesus and the example of the apostles.

Jesus told us not to fear persecution (v. 19). He told us that those who are persecuted are “blessed” and told those who experience persecution that “great is your reward in heaven” (5:10-12). Persecution for Christ is a fact of life for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. It may be God’s will for us at some point, too. If that is the case, we should trust God as we go through it. But there is a difference between being met with persecution as you serve Christ and courting persecution in an area that you know to be hostile to the gospel.

I realize that these are not the warmest devotional thoughts you’ll ever read, but careful attention and obedience to Christ’s instructions are an important part of discipleship. I encourage you to close your time with the Lord this morning by praying for brothers and sisters of ours in Christ who are under persecution to be able to escape it and, if they cannot, to have God’s grace as they endure it.

  • This is not the only thing I think Piper is wrong about but it is the only one I’m writing about today.

Matthew 8

Today we reading Matthew 8.

After teaching his disciples the difficult ethics of his kingdom to emphasize our need for true spiritual rebirth, Jesus went on a tear, healing people in rapid succession. He healed man who who had leprosy just after coming down the mountain (8:1-4), the servant of a centurion (vv. 5-13), Peter’s mother-in-law (vv. 14-15), and a gaggle of demon-possessed people and others who were ill (vv. 14-16). Matthew told us in verse 17 that Jesus did all this to fulfill what Isaiah prophesied about Messiah in Isaiah 53:4.

In response to Jesus’ teaching and power display, men began offering to follow him. One of them was a prestigious “teacher of the law” (vv. 18-19) who volunteered to go with Jesus everywhere. Jesus told him to get ready for an unsettled life. Every wildlife creature may have its own home, but not Jesus. He owned nothing but the clothes on his back. He found a place for himself and his disciples to sleep every night, but it was a different place every night and none of them ever felt like home (v. 20).

Another would-be disciple wanted to follow Jesus but on his own terms. When he asked to bury his father, there is no indication that his father is dead, dying, or sick. The passage suggests that he is promising to follow Christ later, when he is out from under his father’s authority. Jesus’ answer was, “‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” Both the man’s wish to wait and Christ’s use of the word “dead” suggests that this man’s father was an unbeliever. The man wanted to honor his father first and receive his father’s approval, then follow Jesus when his father’s approval was no longer an issue.

Both of these men were invited by Christ to take risks for the gospel. Christ described discipleship as a chaotic living situation (at best) instead of stable home life and a situation where one must do what God commands even when it costs you the approval of the person whose approval you want the most. This is living by faith. It is counting on God to take care of you and reward you instead of finding those things by the usual human ways. Jesus demonstrated his ability to be trusted, however, by demonstrating his power over nature (vv. 23-27) and over the supernatural world (vv. 28-34). So the “risk” of no home and family disownership was really no risk at all because all things are subject to the power of Jesus, so he can be trusted to take care of you.

Are you struggling with the cost of discipleship? Are you tempted to hide your faith in Christ around friends of colleagues who think that our faith is backward, unscientific, and bigoted? Do you encourage your children to live by faith--go to a Christian college and enter Christian ministry or to find a safer, more conventional career that will provide a stable life. The cost of discipleship is unequally distributed. God calls some disciples to literally lay down their lives for Jesus; others he calls to risk their professional reputation or their economic prosperity and stability. The cost of following Jesus may be higher or lower for you than it is for me but it will cost each of us something.

Do you trust Jesus enough to take the risk?