Luke 18

Luke 18

Verses 1-8 start Luke 18 with a parable about prayer. The point of this story according to Luke was, “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” The woman in this story badgered the unjust judge and eventually won her case because of her badgering (vv. 4-5). Then Jesus said that God will listen to those who “cry out to him day and night” (v. 7).

So, if this is the case, why don’t we persist in prayer?

One answer is weak faith or a lack of faith. Another answer is just that we’re human and humans struggle with various kinds of weaknesses.

But I think pride is a reason why we don’t pray persistently. Prayer is an acknowledgment that we cannot control something. It is a response to the knowledge among the faithful that we cannot make something happen on our own so, if it is to happen, God will have to do it.

That takes humility!

Our default assumption is that we can handle things. We can:

  • put up with stuff we don’t like or
  • persuade someone to do what we want, or
  • reason with someone who we have a dispute with, or
  • change ourselves if we try hard enough for long enough.

But prayer makes us admit that these things may not be able to handle everything ourselves and that, in reality, only God can make something happen.

We might pray once or twice asking God for something but after that, we give up to look for “more productive” ways to attack the problem we’re praying about. Also, God is sovereign and will do his will, so he may refuse to answer our prayer requests with yes because they are outside of his will.

All of these are blows to our pride.

So, what do you wish God would do for you? If it is within his moral will, will cause him to be glorified, and is truly righteous and just, don’t let your pride keep you from asking God–continually–for it in prayer.

That’s the message of Luke 18:1-7.

Matthew 23

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).

Let’s focus on 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; instead, his letters began with his first name, “Paul” (Rom 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1, 2 Cor 1:1, etc.)

I 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 (vv. 5-7). 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 18

Read Matthew 18.

Matthew 18 open by telling us that the disciples have asked Jesus a question: “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1).

There are no dumb questions because only people can be dumb; questions cannot. But this question came close to being a dumb one.

It was so foolish and backward that Christ didn’t even try to answer it. Instead, he reframed the issue.

As the disciples stood there in a circle waiting for his answer, Christ called a child over and put that child in the middle of the circle. Then he told them, you won’t even get IN to the kingdom of heaven unless you lower your estimation of yourself spiritually to the level of a child (vv. 3-4). 

Why was a child a good object lesson for true faith that saves?

A child is completely dependent on his/her parents. Our kids need us to provide them with food and shelter, they need us to tell them when to go to bed and when to get up. They need us to teach them (or put them where they will be taught) about language and math and science but also about how to tie their shoes. Although children can be skeptical and argue with us at times, for the most part they believe that their parents are a trustworthy source of information that is necessary to life. 

Did Peter believe he was the greatest disciple? Andrew? John? Judas?

What a joke; the only one who can be called great in heaven is God. The rest of us depend completely on him for everything, starting with the right to enter heaven in the first place.

And, to advance in the kingdom of heaven, we must maintain a childlike spirit of trust and dependence on God along with a healthy sense of our own weakness and inadequacy before our perfect creator.

2 Chronicles 36 and Revelation 22

Read 2 Chronicles 36 and Revelation 22 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 36.

God’s plan for Israel was to be one nation that worshipped him alone and lived under his sovereign leadership and direction, guided by his laws which both prescribed righteous behavior and described how to receive forgiveness when someone broke one of his laws. If the people kept the covenant they had made with God at Sinai, they would have had military victory, economic prosperity, large healthy families, and happy long lives.

Instead, they consistently disobeyed every aspect of God’s word. The worshipped other gods, refused to claim the land God had commanded them to take, divided into two kingdoms instead of one, and became subject to Assyria and Babylon. Despite all the problems their sins produced, verse 14 of this chapter says, “all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”

Although God’s people deserved immediate punishment, God was patient with them. Verse 15 says, “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.” There is a human tendency to resist correction and rebuke, no matter how lovingly delivered. God sent rebuke “because he had pity on his people” not because he enjoyed wounding them with words. If God’s people had humbled themselves in repentance, they could have received forgiveness and the blessings of God’s covenant. Instead, they resisted the Lord’s word and persecuted his messengers. 

Don’t make the same mistake. Open your heart and mind to the correcting influence of God’s word. Be quick to repent when it convicts you and to obey when God commands. Most of all, believe the forgiveness of sins that Christ died to give us by grace. It will save you from the wrath of God in eternity and it will keep you walking with God all the days of your life.

If you’ve completed all the readings, you’ve read through the Bible this year. Congratulations; now keep this daily Bible reading habit going in 2020!

2 Chronicles 34, Psalms 148-150

Read 2 Chronicles 34 and Psalms 148-150 today. This devotional is about Psalm 149.

I don’t get too excited when someone does what he or she has agreed to do. When I go to a store that carries an item I need and the item is there for me to buy, I don’t jump for joy all the way to the cash register. Of course they have it; why wouldn’t they? It bothers me when they run out of something I usually buy there, but it doesn’t thrill me when they have what I expect them to have. When someone meets our expectations, we may be thankful but we’re not especially impressed.

All of us have consistently failed to meet God’s expectations. The very best of us morally is far below what God created us to be morally and expects us to be. God in his grace redeemed us from the fall, but that doesn’t make our fallenness irrelevant or acceptable. If God were like us, he would not be impressed when we do what is right; he’d think, “That’s what you’re supposed to do; too bad you’ve failed me so many other times, though.”

Yet, that is not how God is. Psalm 149:4 says, “For the Lord takes delight in his people….” That’s a pretty astounding statement. Despite all the ways in which the people of God, either Israel or us, have failed him, yet God still looks on us with delight.

That delight is, of course, because of the perfect merits of Christ that he applied to us by faith. This is alluded to in verse 4b: “…he crowns the humble with victory.” It is our humility, expressed in repentance and faith, that causes God to delight in us. If you’re in Christ, do you believe that God delights in you? Do you understand that he is not frustrated or angry when you sin; that sin has been paid in full by Christ. And, God isn’t like an emotionally detached father who says, “Impress me;” Instead, he tells looks on us with delight, not because of who we are or what we’ve done but because Christ, his beloved one, did everything that was necessary to give God that delight.

Don’t live today under the burden or weight of guilt; understand that, because of Christ’s perfect life and his sacrifice, God is delighted with you. Your progress in becoming holy may be slow and frustrating to us at times, but nothing can separate you from God’s love and delight. Let this truth fuel you today as you live for him.

2 Chronicles 32 and Revelation 20

Today read 2 Chronicles 32 and Revelation 20. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 32.

Hezekiah honored the Lord from his heart, led Judah to honor and seek the Lord, and God blessed the nation with spiritual renewal.

That did not mean, however, that Hezekiah had it easy. Here in chapter 32 he had to deal with a significant military threat from Sennacherib king of Assyria. The Assyrians had built a powerful army and were intent on subjugating as many other nations as possible to their control.

In verse 1, Sennacherib picked off some of the smaller fortified cities in Judah, then set his sights on defeating Jerusalem. Remember that David chose Jerusalem to be his capital because it was built on a high hill and surrounded by other mountains which made it difficult to attack successfully. Hezekiah did what he could to prepare Jerusalem for Sennacherib’s attack. He blocked off the springs of water outside the city so it wouldn’t be easy for the Assyrian army to camp there indefinitely (vv. 2-4). He also fixed the broken sections of Jerusalem’s wall and built some towers to improve surveillance around the city (v. 5a-b). He manufactured “large numbers of weapons and shields” (v. 5d) and built an outer wall and “reinforced the terraces of the City of David” (v. 5c).

Hezekiah also prepared his army for the attack (vv. 7-8) and held fast against the propaganda war that Sennacherib waged (vv. 9-19). Most importantly, he prayed. He and Isaiah the great prophet waged war on their knees in this moment of crisis (v. 20) and God honored them by miraculously delivering Judah from Sennacherib (vv. 21-23). Later, when he contracted a fatal illness, God honored his faith and his prayers by healing him (v. 24).

What an amazing life this man led, yet because he was a man he was not immune from sin. He had many victories and much success (vv. 27-29) but he also struggled with pride (vv. 25-26). This temptation follows many people who achieve everything, or most things, they want in life. We forget how much God and others contribute to our success and we start thinking that we have all the answers and deserve everything we’ve gotten.

God hates pride and those who succumb to its temptation usually find themselves humbled in some way before him. The ultimate test of pride is whether one is repentant or not when God deals a blow to their pride. Hezekiah did repent (v. 26) and God was merciful to him to a degree (v. 26b). His story reminds us to be careful about our thoughts when things go well for us. If you’ve had a great year in 2018, I am happy for you and wish you even better things in 2020 but remember to thank and praise God rather than taking too much credit in your heart. God loves humility and rewards the humble but the proud he usually brings to humility.

2 Chronicles 9 and Revelation 6

Today read 2 Chronicles 9 and Revelation 6. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 9.

This chapter summarizes and wraps up the end of Solomon’s life but the chapter began by telling us about how the queen of Sheba came to visit and meet with Solomon (v. 1).  The location of “Sheba” is debated, but it was not close or convenient to Israel. Jesus said that she came “from the ends of the earth” (Matt 12:42), so this was not an easy trip. 

But it was a rewarding one. Verse 4 said, “she was overwhelmed” (v. 4) by her experience in Jerusalem. Her own testimony was that she “did not believe what they said” when she heard about Solomon until she “came and saw with my own eyes” (v. 6). She went from not believing the reports about Solomon to believing that the reports had been grossly understated.  Verse 6 said, “Indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told me; you have far exceeded the report I heard.”

Although her journey was difficult and costly (vv. 1, 6) it was financially beneficial (v. 12) and, I think the Bible suggests, administratively and spiritually advantageous as well. Other world leaders followed her lead and visited with Solomon, too, according to verse 23. 

The lesson here is that wisdom and knowledge may be hard to get and costly but they are worth it. One of the best ways to solve a problem in your life or to move to a new level in your life is to find someone else who has excelled in that area, get with that person, and learn everything you can from him or her.

But you have to humble yourself to admit that you need help and that’s hard for most of us to do. If you were afraid to ask a teacher for extra help in school then you may find it hard to seek advice from others. Refusing to look for help from others may preserve your ego but it will also mean that you’ll be stuck at one level for a long time–maybe for the rest of your life.

Could you use a coach or a mentor in your:

  • walk with God?
  • parenting?
  • use of money?
  • physical health or fitness?
  • career?

Then make like the queen and find someone who can help you! There maybe (probably is) someone in our church family who could help you or introduce you to someone who could help you. 

Where do you need help? Who could you ask for help?