Hebrews 5

Read Hebrews 5.

One of the struggles I’ve had as a Christian is the feeling that God hasn’t listened to my prayers.

I know that God hears and knows everything, so the problem isn’t that my prayer wasn’t heard. The problem is that, although God hears our prayers, he often seems not to answer.

When you speak to someone and they ignore you, it hurts. It feels like you don’t matter to that person. It feels like he or she can’t be bothered with your issues and problems. It feels like that person doesn’t care.

It feels about the same way to me when God doesn’t answer my prayers. Does he not care? Did I offend him somehow with my request? Is there something in my life that he wants me to address first?

Who knows….?

Jesus can relate.

Verses 7-9 describe Jesus’s prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. It says that he prayed “with fervent cries and tears” (v. 7). His goal in these prayers was to be saved from death (v. 7b).

Yet he did die. He was betrayed by Judas, arrested by his enemies, denied by Peter and forsaken by the other apostles, tried and crucified. God was able to save him from death but he did not. It seems like an unanswered prayer.

Yet verse 8 says, “…he was heard.”

He was?

How? In what way was Jesus “heard”?

The answer is given in verse 8, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” In other words, Jesus learned what it meant to be told, “No.” He prayed fervently and emotionally but his request was not in God’s will. He knew that, already, which is why he also prayed, “not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus prayed fervently and emotionally but he also prayed submissively. Jesus asked God for what he–Jesus–wanted but he learned what it meant to submit to what God wanted instead.

Have you prayed about something and felt like it was a waste of time and breath? God’s answer may still be yes but not now or it may be a hard “No.” Understand, though, that it is not because God does not care for you. It is because his will is better than your will.

Trust in that. Keep praying, but remember to pray submissively.

Hebrews 1

Read Hebrews 1. [Note: the schedule I put together for reading through the New Testament moves around so that there is some variety in our readings. That’s why we’re not starting Mark today even though we finished Matthew yesterday.]

One of the challenges to our faith comes in the form of “pluralism”–the idea that every religion leads to the one and only God. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), so we believe that Christianity is the exclusive way to God.

That’s not a popular idea, as you know. Even Christians, at times, have speculated that God might save people outside of Christianity in nations or tribes where there is no Christian witness.

Hebrews 1 provides some important information that explains why pluralism is wrong. It is true that God has spoken throughout human history “in various ways” (v. 1). The writer of Hebrews, though, wants us to know that “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (v. 2a).

Christ, the Son of God, is uniquely qualified to reveal God to us because he “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” Being God himself, Jesus could reveal God to us as no other person or angel (vv. 5-14) ever could.

Furthermore, Christ has “provided purification for sins” (v. 3), something that no other religion, revelation, or spirit being can do.

It is impossible, then, for any other religion to save someone or reveal God to anyone because there is only one God and Christ is the only one capable of revealing him and reconciling us with him.

Despite the pressures we feel from pluralism, we must maintain our conviction that Christ is the only way to God. If we give up (or just get careless) about this truth, it will weaken every conviction we have as Christians and kill our motivation to spread the gospel message.

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 26

Read Matthew 26.

During this final week before Jesus’s death, the Bible tells us he had a predictable daily schedule. During the day he taught in the temple and people showed up early to hear him At night, he left the city of Jerusalem and climbed the nearby hill called the Mount of Olives where he spent the night with his disciples. See Luke 21:37-38 for these details.

Here in Matthew 26, Jesus was in Bethany which is on the Mount of Olives. After teaching all day in the temple, he was enjoying a meal in the home of “Simon the leper” (v. 6). In verse 7 we were told that a woman came and anointed his head with some “very expensive perfume.” This made Jesus’s disciples angry and they complained that, if she wanted to do something good with the perfume, she should have sold it and given the money to the poor (v. 9).

Jesus defended the woman’s actions (v. 10), calling what she did “a beautiful thing.” Caring for the poor was and is important to Jesus but so is loving him. Some acts of worship are extravagant, so seemingly wasteful that they invite criticism. But when they come from a heart of love for God out of a desire to serve and please God, they are beautiful, not wasteful.

Solomon’s temple was meticulously designed, built with the utmost skill, and lavishly furnished. God does not need physical buildings; he wants his people to worship him from the heart in truth, not necessarily in the finest places.

But worship from the heart can cause people to do unusual things. The musician who practices and practices in order to play his or her part perfectly, not just adequately, is doing “a beautiful thing” if he or she does it for Jesus. So is the church that gives sacrificially to build a church building that is beautiful, not just good enough. The same can be said for a teacher who labors to study the word in depth and thinks about the best words to describe and illustrate and apply what God’s word says.

What is the best thing you have–the best skill you have?

  • Is is making money?
  • Is is singing or playing a musical instrument?
  • Is it encouraging others?
  • Is it teaching?
  • Is it making meals?
  • Is it decorating or making art?

Do you show your love for Christ in the way that you use the best thing(s) that you have? Are you willing to sacrifice–extravagantly, even–not to impress others or because you feel like you should but just to do “a beautiful thing” for God?

Matthew 22

Read Matthew 22.

The parable about the wedding banquet, here in verses 1-14, is about Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah. God the Father invited them to the wedding banquet and everything was ready (vv. 1-4) but Israel was too busy with their own stuff, even getting angry enough to persecute and kill some of God’s servants, the prophets (vv. 5-6).

God judged Israel (v. 7 is a veiled prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70) and turned his attention to inviting us, the Gentiles through the gospel message (vv. 8-14).

Notice, though, that all the “bad as well as the good” (v. 10) were gathered in, you still needed an outfit appropriate for a wedding (vv. 11-12). Jesus did not explain what this meant other than verse 14’s statement that, “…many are invited, but few are chosen.” That statement does not explain the image of the wedding clothes and how it relates to the parable.

As God’s revelation continued to unfold in the New Testament, we can see clearly that the wedding clothes Jesus referenced in verses 11-12 refer to the righteousness of Christ that God credits to us by grace. When you and I put our faith in Christ, God began to treat us as if we are as righteous as Jesus Christ is, even though we are not.

Jesus’s perfect life clothes you like a garment. His atonement on the cross was applied to you when you trusted in him, washing all your sins away. But the perfect life of Jesus Christ was also gifted to you, covering your imperfections and making you acceptable in the sight of God.

You and I have a long way to go before we will actually be righteous in the sight of God. God is working on us to make us righteous people but you still belong at the wedding feast because you are covered by the righteousness of Christ.

This is why you don’t need to worry about “losing your salvation.” You didn’t earn your salvation in the first place. It was given to you by God. You can’t lose the garment of Christ’s righteousness any more than you can lose the shirt on your back. If you’re someone who struggles with feelings of assurance in your faith, let this passage encourage you. Trust in the gracious gift of Christ, not your own performance.

Matthew 21

Read Matthew 21.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your car or truck could just give birth? Instead of buying a new one, you could just breed the one you have and instantly have a new vehicle, a new way to move stuff around.

That is one advantage that animals have over machines.

Here in Matthew 21:2, Jesus commands the disciples to go find a donkey and her colt. The colt, we know from Luke, has never been ridden. It still has that “new colt smell.” The family who owned these animals must have been pleased to have this new one. Maybe they had a teenager who was looking forward to riding the old one around without having to share it with mom and dad.

Or, maybe I just injected my own story into the biblical narrative a bit.

Anyway, along came the disciples of Jesus. They saw the colt and donkey tied up, just as Jesus said (cf. vv. 2, 6) so they untied them, just as Jesus commanded them to do (cf. vv. 2, 6).

This was not a case of “Grand Theft Animal,” however. In Jesus’s world, it was acceptable for a rabbi or someone else with authority to borrow resources from other people. Usually, though, a person would ask before borrowing someone else’s property. Jesus did not tell the disciples to ask. He told them to “Untie them and bring them to me” (v. 2e).

When the owner inevitably asked the disciples what they were doing (Lu 19:33-34), Jesus had already instructed them not to ask but to tell the owner, “…the Lord needs them” (v. 3b). Some owners might have said, “Well, then, shouldn’t the Lord ask to borrow them?” But that was not the response in this case. Instead, Jesus said the owner would “send them right away” (v. 3c).

This was an act of lordship. Jesus Christ commanded his disciples to commandeer the colt so that he could use it to fulfill God’s word (vv. 4-5). We believe in and the Bible teaches the right of private ownership of property. The stuff you own is yours. You have the right to use it or lend it or do whatever you want with it.

But God is the ultimate owner of everything and that means he owns what you own. Your home, your car, your money, and any other resources you have ultimately belong to him. As followers of Jesus Christ, you and I should want the Lord to take what we have if he’s going to use it for his kingdom and glory.

It is unlikely that the Lord or one of his disciples will show up and take your car. But, think about this passage in terms of Matthew 25:31-46. I’ll quote a few verses of it right here:

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:37-40

Lending or using your resources to help or refresh the Lord’s servants is an act of service to the Lord himself. It is as if Christ himself came to take your colt and you willingly, gladly handed it over when you help one of God’s people. And, when you and I volunteer to help someone and generously lend or use what you have without expecting any return, you will be blessed by the Father (Matt 25:34).

How is the state of your heart when it comes to generosity? If you have a chance to help someone today, even if it is inconvenient or costly, think about this passage. The Lord has the right to take and use our stuff so let’s look for ways to be useful for him to anyone who has a need we can meet.

Matthew 19

Read Matthew 19.

People in our culture sometimes say, “Jesus never talked about homosexuality.” Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said that in 2012*.

Technically, that statement is true. Jesus did not directly condemn homosexuality the way he did unlawful divorce (v. 9) and a number of other things.

But, notice here in Matthew 19 what Jesus said when he was asked about divorce (v. 3). He could have said, “Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator… said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?”

In other words, Jesus could have started his quotation of Genesis with Genesis 2:24, the verse that directly speaks to marriage. BUT, instead, he first quoted Genesis 1:27 in verse 4: “…at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’”. Jesus framed his answer on divorce with a biblical understanding of marriage and he quoted from two different chapters in Genesis to frame that biblical understanding of marriage.

Why did he do that?

One reason was to preserve the biblical definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Humanity was created in male and female counterparts so that by coming together as one flesh (v. 5, Gen 2:24) they could glorify their creator by enjoying godly sexuality and by creating children together.

Divorce destroys God’s intention for marriage (v. 6). That was Jesus’s point and why he quoted from Genesis in his answer. He acknowledged that divorce was “permitted” (v. 8) in some situations but that, in most instances, it is just a legalized form of adultery (v. 9).

Same-sex relationships–whether legal or not–also violate the Creator’s intentions for marriage and, unlike divorce, there are no exceptions allowed anywhere in scripture.

All kinds of sexual relationships are considered acceptable in our culture but that cultural acceptance do not change God’s infallible Word. Most people on earth are or could be tempted by some form of sexual sin whether premarital sex, adulterous sex, homosexual attraction or sex, lust, and so on. As Christians, we should obey God’s instructions and plead for his grace and mercy, not label as good what God calls sin.


* Click here to read the story on President Carter.