And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mark 8:15
“Watch out; beware of the leaven of the PHARISEES…” Jesus says. Hypocrisy, pride, love of honor and social status. Ruling with heavy legalistic burdens no one can adhere to. Missing the Messiah among religious activity.
“…and the leaven of HEROD,” Jesus continues. Herod, the political leader, representing an utter lack of belief; no religious conviction; ruling with a heavy hand and violence. Rejecting the One true King of kings.
Jesus uses leaven as a picture of what sin can look like and the damage it can inflict. Leaven is a yeast-like substance added to the dough to make it ferment and rise. Only a small amount is needed for a big impact.
Beware of the metaphorical leaven, Jesus warns. It can come from many roots. The Pharisees, though religious on the outside, were at as much risk as Herod and the non-religious people who had disdain for any religion. Like leaven, a little sin goes an exponentially long way. Just a small amount let in unhindered can change the entire composition. Slowly, but wholly.
We all have it. Those things that we let in. They seem insignificant and harmless, but they have the ability to grow and spread and change us, without us knowing or even seeing it happen.
A small mustard seed size faith in God can move mountains. Likewise, a small leaven of sin can corrupt our entire being.
Questions: What seemingly small, but unhealthy, things do you let impact your life? What seemingly small sin areas might easily grow out of hand if not addressed?
So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69
Speaking for the group, Peter responds to Jesus asking if they too want to walk away from Him. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
“You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God,” Peter continues.
Life is hard. Some things in the Bible are hard to understand. Some of the words feel uncomfortable, demanding, convicting, confusing. Many want what Jesus offers, but not on His terms. The idea of taking up our cross and following Him is not what they had in mind. The idea of surrendering to Him rubs their ego the wrong way. The idea of Him as the only way to eternal life goes against their reason.
But to whom else would we go? We might think we want to have some control over saving ourselves…but do we really? It is impossible!
We might think we want a God who never punishes or expects hard things from us…but do we really? We crave a just God who can make all wrongs right.
We might think we want a God who looks the other way on sin – after all, the world tells us it is a personal decision; no one else’s business….but do we really? That only leads to suffering and bondage, not freedom.
We might wonder if God really exists; if it is all just a big cosmic accident…but do we really? Our souls desire purpose and order.
On this side of heaven, we will never have all the answers or understand the fullness of a big God, but to whom else would we go? Truth is truth, and truth is life. Where else would we go?
Question: How do you generally react when things don’t make sense to you and God doesn’t seem to do things the way you think He should?
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst... John 6:35
Tens of thousands are following Jesus after being the recipients of an incredible miracle. All fed in abundance – with leftovers even – from only five loaves of bread and several fish. THIS is who they want to follow. The man with the miracles and baskets of bread.
But Jesus has something to say about that. The bread – even miraculous bread; even the manna their ancestors received daily from God – will not ultimately satisfy. The bread will digest. The day will pass. They will be hungry yet again.
He wants them to be crystal clear about who and what they are following. Jesus – His body; His being – is the bread of life.
Confused still, they ask what they must do to work the works of God. In essence saying, “show us the formula so that we may follow it and never be hungry.”
Jesus again seeks to clarify... It is not in the doing; it is in the believing. In His flesh, sent from heaven, is the bread of life. Upon this, they must eat.
“This is a hard saying,” the chorus, once passionately chasing after Him, cry out. “Who can listen to it,” they shout as one by one they walk away.
Thousands reduced to handfuls. But Jesus isn’t about numbers; He is about truth and followers who know what they are getting into.
“Do you want to go away as well?” Jesus asks the Twelve remaining.
Questions: Why do you think most people follow Jesus? Why do think some people are so quick to walk away from Jesus?
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:28-30
As the night sky gets darker, Jesus tells the disciples to get in the boat and sail to the other side. I wonder if the disciples found spots in the boat to quietly reflect or if they were talking non-stop about the thousands they just fed from a boy’s meager lunch. However the reflection went down, it was temporary. Looking up they all see something frightening. What they perceive to be a ghost is approaching…walking on water.
Among the wind and waves, a familiar voice cries out, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” It’s Jesus. Of course it is Jesus.
Full of faith and expectation, Peter replies, “Lord, if it is you tell me to come to you on the water.” He knows Jesus can do what He says!
“Come,” Jesus says. And come Peter does. We don’t know how many steps he took, but we know he walked on the water toward Jesus.
But then he looked around. Instead of Jesus, Peter now sees the wind. Reason replaces faith and he begins to sink. “Lord, save me!” he cries.
Do you ever feel like Peter? A little faith here, a little doubt there? A desire to step on the water with Jesus, but panic when circumstances flash before your eyes?
So, what does Jesus do? He saves Peter. Immediately. He reaches his hand out and pulls his friend back up. Jesus says, “You of little faith…why did you doubt?” It isn’t condemnation and it isn’t an excuse to let Peter sink further, but sorrow over what we miss when we take our eyes off of Him. Our actions don’t save us…we will always sink on our own. But oh my, the walking on water we could do with great faith. Why do you doubt?
Question: What habits can you instill to help you keep your eyes on Jesus instead of the waves of life?
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Matthew 14:19a
Jesus orders the people to sit on the grass. This isn’t going to be a quick charity buffet line. They are going to sit, eat, enjoy each other’s company.
Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish, looks up to heaven, and says a blessing. He gives thanks… before the miracle. We tend to think of gratitude as something that comes after the provision, but Jesus shows us that gratitude comes before the miracle too. Gratitude releases the miracle.
Jesus invites His friends to be part of this holy provision. The disciples GET TO distribute the bread and fish. Not only does everyone eat until they are satisfied, but there are also leftovers.
The little surrendered to Jesus has produced abundance. Jesus shows us that no amount is too small if we bring it to Him. He will take what we have, invite us to be part of the miracle, and turn it into abundance.
We can focus our attention and energy on our limited resources and seemingly impossible circumstances, or we can GIVE THANKS and bring our little to Jesus. He can’t wait to take us along on the miraculous ride, accomplishing things that would be impossible on our own. And in His provision from our little, we know it is ONLY JESUS. Our faith becomes stronger. Our fear becomes weaker.
Chuck Swindoll says, “The size of a challenge should never be measured by what we have to offer. It will never be enough. Furthermore, provision is God's responsibility, not ours. We are merely called to commit what we have - even if it's no more than a sack lunch.”
Challenge: Write down three even little things/gifts you have that you can give to God to multiply into something for His kingdom.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. Matthew 14:13
Jesus learns the devastating news that John the Baptist was murdered; his head presented on a platter. The life and sacrifice of an unwavering disciple is no joke.
Jesus – fully God and fully man – grieves and withdraws to a desolate place to be alone with His Father.
The crowds don’t care about Jesus’ grieving or privacy; they want this healing they have heard so much about. Despite His pain, Jesus has compassion on the masses coming to Him. He heals them.
The problem is that the crowds have followed Him to this out-of-the-way place where there is no food and no place to get it. Despite watching Jesus perform countless miracles (even healing in this place), the disciples have no clue how to feed the people and want Jesus to send them all away.
Jesus says to His disciples, “YOU give them something to eat.”
They look around at the meager supply of food available – five loaves and two fish. Enough for a family maybe, but not the thousands that have gathered. How in the world can such a small portion solve this enormous problem, they murmur among themselves.
Jesus says, “Bring them to me.”
You only have a tiny fraction of what you need? Remember past provisions and bring it to Jesus!
Question: What in your life feels impossible right now? What small portions can you bring to Jesus?
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
[insert your name],
Beloved, [insert your name], I give you power and authority. I am calling you; sending you out to proclaim the kingdom of God. But, [insert name], take nothing with you. Don’t rely on your own power. Don’t count on your experience, personality, strengths. They will always fall short and let you down. They will trick you into thinking you can do this on your own. Instead, I will provide all that you need.
And if you are not well received – which will happen -- shake the dust off your feet. I too was often misunderstood and rejected. I know it stings at the time, but it is nothing compared to the beauty that lies ahead. I give you permission to move on.
Preach the Gospel. Speak my healing and redeeming words. This is your charge.
Be fully aware, [insert your name], if you choose to follow me, it won’t be easy. You will have to deny yourself and take up your cross. Are you ready for this? Have you counted the cost? Can your ego take it?
It will be tempting to listen to the lies around you about what you need, and what success looks like. I’m not about shiny and smooth; I’m about surrender and saving souls. I’m not going to sugar coat it. There is nothing more important than the truth. But know this: in losing your life, you will save it. It will be hard, but it will be worth it. It will be glorious. After all, what are accolades, power, followers, honor in this temporary world if your soul is lost?
Along the way, I will show you amazing things, [insert your name]. You will see my glory and experience my power. But never forget, the least is the greatest in my kingdom. Be aware of what you are striving for. Service, humility, trust, faith, self-sacrifice is the skill set I’m looking for.
Don’t waste your time and energy fighting with others around you. Consider anyone not against you for you. Don’t be distracted by nuisances. Stay on task. Don’t look to the side or behind you. No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Count the cost…but consider the reward.
[insert your name], are you in? Will you come and follow me? Will you consider holiness better than earthy honor?
[insert your name], I so desire to have you on the team. I see what you are capable of accomplishing in my name. Oh, I wish you could see it too. I see the souls saved by the seeds, watering, and sowing you have the ability to do in my name if you say, ‘yes.’ I love you no matter what you decide, but I don’t want you to miss out on all that I see in you. I won’t force, and I won’t beg. I will only extend the invitation and promise to be with you through it ALL.
What do you say, [insert your name]?
With eternal & unconditional love,
Challenge: Read this letter from Jesus based on Luke 9 several times inserting your name. Write a letter back to Jesus with your response.
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:35,37
We can get a picture stuck in our head, often contrary to facts all around us and even messages from God, about what something will look like. We have expectations for how things should be; what we should be.
James and John are looking around at the others in their small circle, and they want to make sure they have places of honor. The other ten disciples get wind of it, and they are indignant. Competition and comparison kick in, everyone clawing and climbing over each other to try to reach the top. These are people they have walked with, eaten with, worked with, learned with, even healed with… and still, ambition, self-promotion, and competition replace love, humility, the elevation of others.
Jesus, in essence, says, “You want greatness? Serve. Give of yourself. Uplift others.” Self-denial over self-promotion. Sacrifice over self-glory.
Why, when we know what produces pure joy, peace, and contentment, do we continue to look around, compare and compete? It does nothing to draw people to God or glorify Him. Instead, it makes us anxious, unproductive, ineffective, and miserable. It’s the devil’s most potent weapon… “If I could just get their eyes off of Jesus and on themselves and how they stack up against those around them, I could make some headway,” he contrives. We can’t let the devil have this space. We can’t let him dictate where our eyes are focused. We can’t believe his lie that it is all about us and we need to preserve and protect that at all costs.
The anecdote? Seeking God’s glory always over our own. Serving others. Lifting others up. Denying ourselves for the benefit of others. Giving generously. Focusing our eyes above. Embracing our unique calling and running toward it with passion.
Challenge: How can you be great in the kingdom today by serving?
And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Mark 6:4
Why does familiarity breed contempt? Why are those closest to Jesus the ones who had the hardest time accepting who He was? Ever been there?
For nearly 30 years Jesus was with them in the small town of Nazareth. They probably played tag with Him as children, ate with His family, worshiped with Him at the Synagogue, possibly even purchased furniture He built. They knew Him. They knew His character, His kindness, His work ethic, His compassion. Surely they saw these things over the years.
And now Jesus returns after a year or so. They have heard rumblings about His popularity and many miracles. Jesus begins to teach in the same synagogue they likely witnessed thousands of teachers share the Word together. They are astonished by what they hear. The wisdom with which He teaches…like no one before Him; the mighty works done by His hands.
But...they know His mother, His brothers and sisters, His aunts and uncles. A family of little social standing or importance. They know His educational background. No formal training. A mere carpenter.
And because of their preconceived notions about Him; because of their insistence that they know Him so well, they miss the most beautiful part of who He is. Instead of believing, they show contempt. Their wonder based on things they just witnessed turns to offense. How dare Jesus come back here and say things like He is the Messiah? Does He think He is better than us? We know who He really is! It doesn’t make sense.
Jesus, the carpenter, they know. Jesus, the Anointed One, they can’t wrap their head around. It just can’t be this guy we grew up with. Yes, He is kind. Yes, He is a good man. But, He is no Messiah. Familiarity left them blind.
Questions: Why do you think those who grew up with Jesus had the hardest time believing He was the Messiah? What beautiful parts about someone close to you might you be missing? What are those nearest to you missing about you?
Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Mark 5:41
Two wildly different people, their stories interwoven.
By cultural standards, they never would have spoken.
One has it all: wealth, resources, power.
The other has nothing, barely hanging on hour to hour.
One approaches boldly, in confidence he comes.
The other comes discreetly, hoping to attract the attention of none.
But more in common than any on the outside know;
they are desperate for Jesus and not ashamed to let it show.
No other options, a last-ditch resort,
this Jesus, the healer, to Him they report.
A child, 12, dying; a father’s nightmare,
A woman bleeding, for that many years.
If only a word or even a touch,
We need you, Jesus. WE NEED YOU SO MUCH!
The crowds are so thick, so noisy and pressing.
We have to get through, we have faith in a blessing.
The woman lunges forward before the crowds close in.
She makes contact, though only the hem.
She feels it instantly, fully healed and whole.
By His sudden reaction, she knows that He knows.
“Who touched me,” He asks. The air becomes thick.
To her knees, she collapses. Please, let this stick.
“You’ve been made well on account of your belief.”
She has never known such indescribable relief.
But the joy interrupted with troubling news:
Jairus’ daughter is dead. it’s just no use.
Do not fear, you need only believe.
Come with me, a miracle you will see.
“Talitha cumi.” “Little girl, Arise.” Today is for living, no one will die.
I wonder who else needs to hear these words?
Arise, dear believer. Your faith is a cure.
It makes no difference your family name.
In the eyes of Jesus, we are all the same.
Challenge: Read the stories the poem was based on in Mark 5:21-43.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32
More clues from Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven…
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of a mustard seed. The tiniest, least significant seed that slowly grows into the largest of garden plants. It is like leaven. A minuscule ingredient placed in a large amount of flour that changes the entire composition of the bread.
Our kingdom growth—our relationship and transformation -- isn’t instantaneous. It takes time. It takes abiding. It takes faithful obedience. It takes a humble and open heart. It takes valuing it over all earthly things.
As kingdom people, we may seem small and insignificant according to the world’s standards, but we have great power and potential. We diligently do our thing, then before we know it, we are changed; people around us are changed. That tiny mustard seed is a towering tree, providing resting places and shade. That leaven has altered the bread. Those steps in abiding, faith, and obedience have transformed us; saved us; inspired us to invite others to join us.
Small but mighty; full of potential and power…a tiny seed, a simple ingredient, a baby in Bethlehem, uneducated disciples, you and me. Waiting to bust out of that small, simple beginning is something incredibly significant. Will we be a part of it or will we let it pass us by?
Questions: Have you ever experienced little things making a huge impact? It is encouraging that our Christian walk is intended to be slow and steady? What speaks most powerfully to you about these kingdom of Heaven examples from Jesus?
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field… Matthew 13:24
John the Baptist and Jesus both began their ministry preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
In fact, Jesus talked A LOT about the Kingdom of Heaven. It is in the Gospels more than 80 times; a main theme of Jesus’ teaching.
Have you ever stopped to think about it? What is the Kingdom of Heaven? Where is the Kingdom of Heaven?
Matthew shares several parables (stories used to illustrate a lesson) told by Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a seed that was sown. And though the sower and the seed are the same, the soil it falls on is different, producing different results. Jesus, the Word, came in the flesh to sow the seed (Himself) here on earth. The soil preparation and garden tending are in our domain.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a great treasure hidden in a field or a pearl of incredible value. Whether stumbled upon or searched for makes no difference. The difference is in the value placed on it once found; recognizing it is a treasure worth giving up everything to find and keep.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seeds, but weeds infiltrated the field by the enemy; it is like a net thrown into the sea to catch fish of all kinds. The evil and the righteous exist side by side in the present. The devil and sin still have a place in this kingdom era we are living in, but it won’t last forever. A separation will take place; a time will come when our decisions here will determine our forever future.
Questions: What do you think of when you hear “the kingdom of Heaven”? What do some of these parables tell you about it?
And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. Mark 4:26
There are many ways to receive the Word, but only one bears fruit. The messy, dirty, broken up soil that gladly receives the seed of truth.
A seed, securely packed beneath the ground, begins to find comfort. It takes root, the tough shell breaking open as new life slowly emerges. All the hard work underground, in the dirt. Branching out, digging in, absorbing life-giving water. Long, tedious, unseen, messy work.
Then one day, it breaks through the surface. Nothing much to look at some might say, but it’s the start of something beautiful. It craves the light from above, reaching always toward it.
Day and night. Day and night. The Creator is doing His thing on the willing creation. Slow and steady. Work underground, branching out, soaking in the living water. Slow and steady. Work above the surface, taking in the light, becoming sturdier, even blooming.
The growing never ends. The feeding on the water and sunlight never ends. But something changes. The once small seed becomes a source of comfort for others. Birds build nests and rest on its branches. Children pick from the overflowing fruit it is bearing. Couples sit under its shady limbs.
The seed doesn’t desire to go back underground. Once out, the transformed seed never wants to leave the sun. This, Jesus says, is the Kingdom of Heaven.
We grow and we glow, all fueled by the living water and source of all light. It is slow and it is messy and underground root-building at times. But it is also hands reaching high out in the open; new life shining to illuminate the path of truth, always radiating light from the Source, while simultaneously pointing others there.
Question: How does our growth in Jesus compare to a seed/plant/tree?
In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her. Matthew 26:12-13
“Why this waste?... For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor,” one of the men with Jesus say as they watch the woman pour precious oil over the teacher’s head. I wonder to myself if this disciple even cares about the poor. Such indignation in their voices. Such a contrast with the woman’s peaceful countenance and the compassion in the teacher’s eyes.
All eyes shift to the teacher, Jesus. What will he say? He seems to hate extravagance and is always quick to remind us to care for the poor.
He surprises us all with His response, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”
Prepare me for burial? He isn’t even dead. Is that what she is doing? Oooohhh…now I remember where I know her. Yes, it was her brother, Lazarus, that the teacher raised from the dead. A quick look at her face shows she is as surprised by his words about his burial as I am.
The teacher continues, “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
What an honor He has bestowed on her. What the others call a waste, the teacher, Jesus, calls beautiful and worthy of retelling. I know I will never forget this moment.
Questions: Why does this woman treat Jesus as she does? How does Jesus respond? What does Jesus say her legacy will be? Why?
… a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. Matthew 26:7
My eyes are fixed on the woman who walked in the door -- the other guests notice her too. All eyes are shifting her way. She has an incredible presence. I should welcome her, but I am frozen.
She confidently walks up to Jesus. His eyes lock on hers. He has a way of doing that; of making you feel like you are the only one in the room. The once noisy space is eerily silent.
She lifts the alabaster jar over his head and breaks the thin glass neck. Instantly I know what is in the bottle. We all do. The room is flooded with the strong aroma. Expensive perfume, dripping over the teacher’s head. Soaking his hair, running down his face, pouring over his clothes, remnants dropping to the table and onto the floor. If I had to guess, at least 12 ounces. I cup my hand over my mouth and nose. The potent smell is overwhelming.
What is she doing? Why would she do such a thing? Tears stream down her face. She is filled with emotion. With love. She drops to her knees. What a display of extravagant worship. She cares not a shred what anyone in the room thinks. I wish I were more like that.
I quickly observe that not everyone is thinking the same. It is acutely apparent from the voices talking over each other.
“Why this waste?” one of the disciples shouted. He has a point. A year’s worth of wages in a pool on my just swept floor.
To be continued…
Questions: Why do you think the woman poured the expensive oil over Jesus’ head? Would you have also thought it a waste? What do you think Jesus will think?
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper... Matthew 26:6
I often like to picture myself at the scene of these Biblical stories. I imagine this story went something like this from the eyes of the wife of Simon, the leper healed by Jesus, in this account of Jesus’s visit…
I lean against the window soaking everything in. I still can’t believe we are all here. My family back together again. Guests in our home. I wasn’t sure I would ever see this day.
For so long my beloved was shunned because of his incurable, contagious -- flat out gross, if I’m honest -- skin condition. Our family ripped apart, mandatory separation. Of course, I understood. He was unclean, plus we could not risk it spreading to the rest of us. But that doesn’t dull the pain. Then everything changed that day nearly two Sabbaths ago. A day seared into my memory. At the time we didn’t know much about this traveling teacher, but we heard he could heal. That was all we needed to know. Looking back, we were so naïve. He has so much more to offer us, but when you have leprosy, it’s hard to think beyond the scabs and loneliness. I remember my stomach in knots as my beloved Simon approached the teacher, pressing through the shouting crowds. He noticed Simon. I knew he would notice him…and I can’t believe it all at the same time. A word. One word. It only took a word from the teacher, and he was healed. Instantly. Without even a scar remaining to tattoo the pain. I’m not sure I’ve fully wrapped my head around it all.
And now Jesus is here. The teacher is dining with us. The healed and the healer. Our tiny home packed with the teacher’s usual followers and many of our longtime friends.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot her walking through the door. Mary, I think her name is. Her eyes a combination of peace and fierce determination. In her hand, I see a jar. Her fingers are circling the top of the long neck of the bottle. To be continued…
Questions: Where is Jesus? Whose home is it? What is the significance?
And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Matthew 11:4-6
Going through difficult trials with no end in sight leaves us vulnerable to doubting God’s goodness and provisions. Our limited view of God’s hand at work leaves us questioning and filling in blanks with incomplete information. Outside influences creep in, altering our perception of God and what he should look and act like. Unmet expectations can rock our faith. Like John, we may feel like things are not turning out the way we were sure they would.
Faith is hard in these circumstances. These things can drive us away from God. Most of us probably know someone who is far from God because they couldn’t reconcile their trials, expectations, and other opinions with God’s truth. But these circumstances can also draw us closer to God.
John gives us a great example of what to do when we are in this position of doubt. He doesn’t seek understanding from within or wisdom from others. He goes straight to the source, Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t rebuke John in his doubts. He also doesn’t respond with a simple, “yes, I am the One.” Instead, He responds with Scripture and the prophecies about Himself. Jesus knows John will recognize Him in the Scriptures. It is a reset of his expectations. A recalibration of his faith.
Sometimes we need a recalibration of our faith too. When we have doubts, we should admit it, and then take it straight to God. We should examine the Scriptures about who God is. We should pray for God to reveal Himself to us in our doubts. And like John, this is where our faith will be strengthened. With confidence, we will be able to say, “You ARE the One. There is no other.”
Challenge: Take all your doubts to God today. He won’t rebuke You. He wants you to come to Him. Ask Him for wisdom and revelation.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Matthew 11:2-3
Do you ever have doubts about God? Do you ever feel like He isn’t meeting your expectations? Do you ever feel a bit disappointed in how He is working?
If so, you are not alone. God is so good to preserve stories like this in His Word to give us an example of someone else who doubted. To show us that even the most spirit-filled and deeply devoted followers can have moments of doubt. And in this story, we also learn how to handle our doubts.
The doubter in this story: John the Baptist. John, the one who leaped in the womb in the presence of Jesus in the womb (Luke 1:41). John, the one who recognized Jesus as Messiah, saw the Holy Spirit descend on Him, and heard God speak over Him (John 1:29-36). John, the prophesied about messenger who would pave the way for the Messiah. THIS John.
John is in prison, not for any wrongdoing on his part, but for proclaiming the truth and the need for repentance; for living out his calling. Commentators say he has likely been in prison for over a year.
I can imagine John thinking, This isn’t how it is supposed to go down. I thought the kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Jesus, you’re being persecuted, I’m in prison, and Rome is still oppressing us. WHY AREN’T YOU FIXING THIS?
To be continued…
Questions: Do you ever have doubts? What causes the biggest doubts? What do you do when you have these doubts?
When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Luke 7:9
Marvel… “a sense of astonishment, whether critical or inquisitive, or admiration with a nuance of awe or fear.”
Marveled is repeatedly mentioned in the Bible, generally concerning the crowds’ reaction to what Jesus is teaching and doing.
But Jesus -- God in the flesh -- marvels only on two occasions: Faith and unbelief.
The centurion – not only a Gentile(non-Jew) but a Roman soldier; the enemy of the Jews – is the one with faith. He believed Jesus would heal his servant and friend, even if Jesus just spoke it to be so. And from miles away, with a word from Jesus, his servant & friend is healed. Unexpected and pure belief. Jesus marveled at his faith.
Contrast that to the Jewish community in Jesus’ hometown – His own people who should know Him the best – they were the ones with unbelief. And very few miracles occurred in their midst. Unexpected and debilitating unbelief. Jesus marveled at their unbelief.
Familiarity can breed unbelief, but unexpected belief can come from anyone and anywhere.
Questions: Is Jesus marveling at you? For faith or unbelief?
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:13-14
Pastor Rick Warren says, “If you always feel comfortable reading God’s word, you either aren’t reading ALL of it, or you aren’t letting it sink in.”
This is one of those passages. Jesus says that destruction is along the easy path with the wide gate…a path that MANY are on. Conversely, eternal life is found on a path that is hard with a narrow gate…few find it.
We have to be careful not to pick and choose ONLY the parts of Scripture that are easy to follow, easy to understand, and feel good to us. John Piper says, “Whatever you do, don’t domesticate the radical teachings of Jesus. If they make you uncomfortable, let them do their work. They are designed to create real disciples who are ready to lose all to gain Christ. The world may call it hate. They may call it foolishness. It is not. It is love. And it is the wisdom of God.”
Some parts of the Bible are difficult to understand and make us uncomfortable. In the presence of His holy word and righteousness, we often come face to face with our sin and pride; our desire for control and our desire to conform to the patterns of the world. God knows this about us. He loves us and says, “Come along, I’ve got more to show you; more to give you. Let me transform your mind and give you my peace and power. My ways are always better. Follow me on this path, through that narrow gate. I promise it is worth it.”
Though the wide-gate-culture-preaching of live and let live, make your own rules, believe your own truth is tempting at times, it will never lead us through the narrow gate along the path that leads to freedom, peace, salvation, redemption, and eternal life.
Questions: What kinds of things put people on the destructive path to the wide gate over the life-giving path through the narrow gate? Why do you think MANY are on the path of destruction and FEW on the path of life?
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24
Two houses line the tree-canopied streets of the same neighborhood. One a stunning home on a hill with a gorgeous view. Stately, spacious, meticulously landscaped, around the clock attention, no expense spared on the interior finishes and furnishings; a showhouse for sure.
Down the street a pretty house. Nothing fancy, but functional. Built with love. A little messy here and there. Fingerprints of life visible on the walls; subtle scuffs on the study floors. A good home. A solid home.
One warm summer day an unexpected storm blows through. The neighborhood braces for hours of rain, flooding, and heavy winds. But the quaint neighborhood is no match for the powerful storm. All but a few homes demolished. No one saw this one coming and the houses everyone expected to survive are in shambles, while some of the often-overlooked homes are intact. The stately house on the hill: only scraps remaining. The simple, sturdy home: standing tall among the rubble.
The difference? A strong foundation; more attention given to its structure than to the shiny showcase features.
Time and again, Jesus teaches that the inside – the heart and our foundation – is what matters. The outside can be deceiving. The things unseen by man, but seen by God, are what is truly valued.
Working on the foundation isn’t always fun. It is hard work; unseen and unadmired by others. The world tells us to spend our time making the outside look impressive, but this does nothing to shore up the foundation to withstand the trials.
A slick image and clean looking façade can take a hit or two but won’t survive the big storms. And one thing we can count on is storms and trials. Only deep roots sown by abiding in Jesus, and a solid foundation built on His truth can help us weather the storms that will inevitably come.
Question: What can you do today to work on your “foundation”?
[Jesus teaches us how to pray] Pray then like this:… Matthew 6:9a
Our Father who art in Heaven – God, I acknowledge you as Father…as OUR Father….who is in Heaven, above all; who sees all and controls all.
Hallowed be thy name – holy is Your NAME. It has power. It is worthy of awe and my deepest respect.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done – not my will, but YOURS, God, be done. Let my will be in sync with Yours.
On earth as it is in heaven – and not just your will for us to be with You in eternity, but Your will to be done here and now. On earth.
Give us this day our daily bread – give me what I need today...this day. Let me not worry about more than I need to today. Be my provision in all things today.
And forgive us our trespasses – forgive me, God for [confession time]. Thank you that You forgive time and time again, even when I repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
As we forgive those who trespass against us – God, help me to forgive as You forgive. Help my gratitude for Your forgiveness of me spill over into lavish forgiveness of others.
Lead us not into temptation – God, please help me avoid temptation. Help me to keep my focus on You rather than things that tempt me.
But deliver us from evil – God, deliver me from all evil. Help me to walk in the light. Help me love the things You love and hate the things You hate.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen. – Yes, Lord. Yours is the Kingdom I want to be in. You are the power I need. Your glory is unmatched. Now and forever.
Challenge: For one week begin each day with the Lord’s prayer, concentrating on each piece of it.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
What do you seek first? What if we always sought God’s kingdom and God’s will first in all things?
You are feeling overwhelmed…but seek first my kingdom.
You have all these ideas of things you want to run and do…but seek first my path.
You are confused by culture’s definition of right and wrong…but seek first my truth.
You are feeling weary and broken…but seek first my righteousness.
You are in need…but seek first a supply of my word.
You are heartbroken…but seek first my comfort.
You have an important decision to make…but seek first my wisdom.
You don’t feel like you are enough or have enough time, energy, resources…but seek first my power.
…and ALL these things will be added to you.
C.S. Lewis says, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in; put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”
Or as Jesus is saying here, put God first and all these things will be added to you. Seek all these other things first and you will have no time for God…and on top of that, you won’t achieve those things…they will still be there. You lose both.
How often does God take second place to things we think we just HAVE to do first, and then we are left feeling like we have fallen short at everything. Seeking second place things first leaves no time for first or second place things.
Challenge: Make it a goal today to keep pressing on to put first things first; to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Reflect on it at the end of the day. How did it impact your decisions and your attitude toward things and people?
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17
Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount continues, addressing some of the laws. For thousands of years the Jewish people have been chasing after laws to try to be right with God; to please Him. There were laws given to Moses from God, and many more the Jewish leaders created themselves over the years. The law had replaced love of God as THE THING. They believed they could save and elevate themselves if they could just more diligently follow all the laws.
Jesus is trying to tell them (and us!) it isn’t about the laws or the world’s definition of blessing; it is about the condition of your heart. It is deeper than commandments written on tablets or paper; it is what is inside you.
You say you haven’t murdered anyone? Jesus says, have you ever been angry with your brother? Same thing. Uh oh.
You say you haven’t committed adultery? Jesus says, have you ever looked at anyone with desire? Then guilty.
He tells them to scrap the old ideas of retaliation and instead turn the other cheek. Give generously. Go the extra mile.
Jesus tells them that He did not come to abolish the law (“or the prophets,” representing the prophesies) with these words and His life, but to fulfill them. The law isn’t obsolete, but He is teaching a different way to follow it...by following HIM.
Jesus is teaching that we need to work on our hearts, not the law. Out of this heart transformation obedience flows. It isn’t about trying harder; it is about loving more...loving God and loving others. Where we could never accomplish truly righteous living in our own power, Jesus came to do that for us. He came to fulfill what no one else could.
Questions: What is the difference between obediently following God’s commandments and following out of a pure heart? Do you think it is impossible to consistently follow them if our hearts are not right?
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. Matthew 5:1
Jesus climbs up a mountain, sits down, and begins to teach what it really looks like to do life in the kingdom of Heaven. He begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What in the world does He mean?
Financial situation has little to do with being poor in spirit. It is an utter emptiness without God. It is a crater that can only be filled with God’s grace, mercy, love, goodness. It is an absence of any sense of control or ability to fix anything on our own.
Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. All of the goodness available when we are emptied of ourselves and open to receive heaven. In that emptiness, that crater, that absence, God comes in and fills it overflowing.
Here is the hard part: Only in the emptying can there be filling. My pastor says he often prays of our congregation, “bless them or break them…whatever brings them to you.” More often the breakings are what bring us places we would never otherwise go. Places where we see God’s face more clearly.
We can’t muster up being poor in spirit and we can’t obtain in by watching others. Yes, we are moved, but we are not emptied. We are still clinging, if only slightly, to a thread of control and trying to make it on our own. All of the counter-intuitive verses about joy in trial and suffering make more sense. Only then are we emptied. Poor in spirit.
The only response is worship in humility and deep gratitude. A realization that something was done to us, in us, for us that we could never do on our own. We truly experience the kingdom of heaven; the rich abundance of a holy God we are emptied of us and filled with Him.
Questions: Why do you think this was the first “blessed” statement by Jesus in this Sermon? How do you see this truth as being foundational to all others?