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!

Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Matthew 17

Read Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, and Matthew 17 today. This devotional is about Matthew 17.

The disciples had heard Jesus 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 read about other prophets, like Elisha, for example, doing miracles like these.

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 (v. 2), 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?

Really, Peter, James, and John were the three who would need shelter from the elements, not Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

But as a true servant, Peter 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.

Streets of gold, pearly gates, and any other material thing you think about enjoying in heaven will seem stupid and worthless compared to the value of being in the presence of God himself, Jesus Christ our Lord, constantly.

Also, iPhones, big TVs, flashy cars and comfy homes will be forgotten when we’re with Jesus. If we can learn to invest in that kingdom, the stuff we crave on this earth will seem stupid by comparison.

So, what are you doing today to get ready for THAT day?

Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Matthew 15

Read Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Matthew 15 and this devotional which is about Matthew 15.

Not too many people have the guts to correct Jesus.

And, 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 society. 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” (v. 21) it is not surprising that there were Gentiles around. But Jewish people did not ordinarily mix with Gentiles and they certainly didn’t have religious dialogue with them.

But the woman in this passage was on a mission! Despite her background, she came knowledgeably to Jesus calling him, “Lord, Son of David” (v. 22c). Clearly she had not only heard about Jesus, she had some insight into who he was.

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 others 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 pleading, “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). 

His 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 to–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, she 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.

When she “corrected” Jesus, she was not rebuking him or 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 every bit of 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.

Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, Matthew 13

Read Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, and Matthew 13. This devotional is about Matthew 13.

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 the kingdom 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.

His lordship 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.

Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, Matthew 12

Read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Matthew 12 today. This devotional is about Matthew 12.

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.