Matthew 28

Read Matthew 28.

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the hardest things in the Bible to believe. You may have seen someone resuscitated but you’ve never seen someone who has been dead for days and embalmed for burial get up out of his or her casket. I think about this sometimes when I attend a funeral or a visitation. It would be a distressing thing to witness a bona fide resurrection.

God knew it would be difficult to believe and he knew that it would be easy to fabricate a believable story to explain the disappearance of Jesus’s dead body. What is more likely? What is easier to believe–that someone actually rose from the dead or that someone stole a dead man’s body, buried it out in the desert where it would never be found, and then claimed that he rose from the dead? The question answers itself.

So, here in Matthew 28, Matthew recorded the cover up that the enemies of Jesus concocted to explain away his disappearance (vv. 11-15). But he also recorded the appearance of Jesus to the women (vv. 1-9). Then he recorded the promise Christ made to meet with his disciples in Galilee (v. 10) and then his meeting (v. 16) and his final words to them (vv. 17-20).

All of these appearances were designed to provide evidence that that the resurrection is true. The followers of Jesus didn’t just say, “Trust us; he rose from the dead even though only one or two of us saw him. Instead, he made several appearances, some of which are not even recorded here in Matthew, so that there would be an abundance of witnesses who would see him alive and well on planet earth.

But it takes an act of faith to believe in the resurrection. There is an alternative explanation (vv. 11-15) and it is easier to believe that than it is to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. But he did rise from the dead because his resurrection was necessary for our salvation, for our spiritual power, and to prove that Christ is, in fact, the Son of God.

Don’t doubt the resurrection of Jesus and don’t shy away from talking about it to others. It is true and essential to everything we hold dear as Christians. Our hope for eternal life rests in the truth of the resurrection and Christ, by rising from the dead first, shows that God can and will raise the dead.

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?

One more thought: 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 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 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?

Genesis 38, Job 4, Matthew 26

Read Genesis 38, Job 4, and Matthew 26. This devotional is about Matthew 26.

Matthew continued to chronicle the week of Jesus’ crucifixion and, in verses 1-2, Jesus warned the disciples that the crucifixion 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.

Genesis 29, Esther 5, Matthew 20

Read Genesis 29, Esther 5, and Matthew 20 today. This devotional is about Matthew 20.

Jesus told some very odd stories and Matthew 20:1-16 contains one of them. It started out unsurprisingly enough: A farmer needed harvesters for his vineyard. He went where the unemployed workers hung out and hired a bunch of them. They agreed to work all day for 1 denarius. That was the standard amount paid for one day’s work in Jesus’ time.

At noon, he hired more guys; their wage was ambiguous: “whatever is right” (v. 4). That equals more than zero, so they agreed.

The same thing happened at 3 p.m. At 5 p.m., he hired even more guys.

A few hours later as darkness fell, each worker was paid. The farmer instructed his foreman to start with the last guys in, pay them first, and pay the first guys last. The foreman paid 1 denarius to the guys who started working at 5. In other words, they made a full day’s wage for one hour of work. Nice work if you can get it!

The guys hired at 3 got their denarius, and so did the guys who clocked in at noon. The guys who had worked all day eagerly looked forward to their paychecks. They reasoned: “This crazy landowner is paying a day’s wage to guys who worked for 1 hour; how much will he pay for those of us who worked 8 hours?” The answer:

One denarius, just as they had agreed in the morning. No bonus money for working all day.

Although that is the amount they had agreed to from the beginning, they were unhappy. Even though it was a fair wage for a fair day’s work and even though they had agreed to this pay in advance, they felt it was unfair to pay the last workers as much as the first workers made (v. 12).

When they complained about these unfair labor practices, the farmer told them, “Hey, it’s my money! I can do with it whatever I want and what I want is to be crazy generous to those who only worked an hour.” Jesus concluded in verse 16 by saying, “So the last will be first and the first will be last” (v. 16).

This is a parable about justice and generosity. It is a parable about God and, specifically, how he treats people in his kingdom. The lesson taught in this parable is that God is generous in his kingdom; he does not operate in typical human ways. If you follow Jesus for 50 years or for 1 day, you receive the same blessing of eternal life, the same gift of God’s love, the same adoption into God’s holy family.

Do you ever feel a sense of inferiority as a Christian? If you were saved as an adult, do you think that people who were saved as children are more loved by God or more capable of serving him effectively?

Or do you suffer from superiority? Do you look down on other believers because they lack a Christian heritage or don’t have the fund of Bible knowledge that you do?

Let this parable correct your thinking about God and his ways. God is generous with his grace. He makes the same promises to everyone who calls on him. So enjoy and marvel at the grace of God and don’t look at any other Christian as more or less blessed than you are.

Genesis 26, Esther 2, Matthew 19

Today read Genesis 26, Esther 2, and Matthew 19. This devotional is about 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:

  • shouldn’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 notice the rewards Christ promised to those who trust him and follow him in obedience (vv. 27-30). He promised the Twelve a share of his rule (v. 28e) and that everyone who lost something or someone following him would receive “a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (v. 29).

The kind of submission to Christ described in this chapter may cause you to fall far behind in the rat race of human life.

But human life in this age is over quickly while 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.”

So, so what Jesus says; it will be more than worth it!