And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b
Here we are, at the end of the Gospels…the accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – the Christ, Messiah, Lord of all, King of Kings. What a ride so far.
Before Jesus ascended back to heaven, He leaves His followers with final marching orders…
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” He begins. Jesus has all power and all authority.
Continuing, He says, “Go therefore…” Action is required. We may be scared. We may be filled with joy. We may be both at the same time. One thing we must do is GO.
“…and make disciples of all the nations…” Disciples: scholars, teachers, students. Not just converts; disciples. And not just Jews…ALL nations. This good news is for everyone.
“…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Not circumcising and converting to Jewish law observation, but baptizing. In the name (singular) of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. One God in three persons.
“…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Don’t just baptize them, teach them about Me. Help them to know Me as you know me.
He concluded, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I will never leave you. I will always be with you.
The great commission to the first hearers of the words and to us comes with: power and authority, instructions, and a promise from Jesus to be with us always.
Challenge: Believe the Gospel, and then GO and BE the Gospel
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:54
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cries out from the cross. He is quoting Psalm 22, something that would be extremely familiar to the Jewish onlookers.
A holy God must turn His face from all the sin. This moment is what Jesus dreaded in the Garden…not so much a painful death, but a momentary separation from His Father as He assumes the full wrath of God for our sins. He takes it all.
Once again Jesus cries out with a loud voice and yields up His spirit. No one could take it from Him. He willingly, purposefully, and obediently gives it up. Jesus takes the punishment for our sins, securing them forever between the splintered wood and His bloody hands. But it doesn’t end there…He also gives us His righteousness. A holy, spiritual transaction.
Simultaneously the following occurs:
As hard as it is to read or comprehend, may we never lose the significance or awe of the details surrounding the death of Jesus. The fulfillment and culmination of God’s sovereign plan from the beginning of time.
Truly this IS the Son of God. My Savior and Lord!
Challenge: Read Psalm 22 that Jesus quotes from the cross.
The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” Matthew 27:21-22
“Barabbas. Barabbas!” From his small dark prison cell, Barabbas surely heard the shouts of his name from the crowds, followed shortly after by even louder cries of, “Let him be crucified!” I wonder if he was trembling or stoic with the realization that his life was surely about to come to an excruciating end. Just punishment for his many crimes.
Instead, the notorious murder goes free, while the innocent Jesus is condemned. The cross meant for Barabbas hailed on the raw, bloody, exposed shoulders of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t resist or fight back. In fact, He joins the chorus saying, “ [your name]. [your name]!” You see, He isn’t just taking the place of Barabbas on the cross, He is also taking it for you and me. He humbly, powerfully, and willingly takes the punishment we deserve.
Everything happens as the prophets foretold…as Jesus told his disciples it would. He is mocked, scourged, spit on, lots cast for his clothes, taken to the hill to die on a cross. An intended humiliating public display for all to see.
Three hours of unusual darkness covers the land during the middle of the day. The heavens declaring the weight of this moment.
Questions: Picture the scene of Barabbas in his prison cell hearing his name wondering if it was his time to die on a cross…and then hearing that he has been released and Jesus would be crucified instead. Imagine what he is thinking and feeling. Do you have this kind of emotion when you think of what Jesus did to take your place?
He [Jesus] said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Matthew 21:13
When Jesus visits Jerusalem He finds that those with stewardship over the holy temple have replaced worship with worldliness and wealth-generation. The outer courts – the only space where Gentiles could come experience God and pray – had become a place of commerce instead of communion with God.
Jesus came to cleanse. And on His way to the cross to cleanse us with His blood, He stops at the temple to cleanse God’s temporary dwelling place. He turns over the tables of the merchants and money changers. He calls them out, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.”
The holy place of God has taken on the look, feel, and attitude of the culture and environment, leaving little room for worship and communion with God. Jesus had no choice but to clean house.
What about the Church at large today? Have we crowded out the paths for non-believers to come and worship? Have we filled the space with individual motives, legalism, hatred, favoritism, leaving no room for others to come and worship?
And on a more personal level, now we as believers are the temple of God. How is our temple looking? Have we squeezed out space for worship and communion with God and replaced it with worldly things? Do we need to clean house to make room for God?
God, please show me where tables need to be overturned in my life. Show me places and things that are crowding out space that should be filled with You alone. Let this temple within me be a place of pure and holy worship to You.
Questions: How is your “temple” looking? Are you making room for worship, or is it filled with things of the world, leaving little room for God? Where might you need to do some “housecleaning” internally?
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. Matthew 21:12
The tension is building as the culmination of what Jesus came for is approaching. It is a mix of people welcoming with shouts of, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and the anger of the religious leaders at a boiling point.
Jesus enters Jerusalem during the Passover Celebration. The once a year commemoration of God freeing the Israelites from Egyptian slavery; from passing over the Jewish houses with blood on the doorposts when death came at the door of all Egyptian firstborn sons.
Jewish faithful from all over the world convene in Jerusalem to celebrate, worship, and offer sacrifices. The temple the focal point; God’s presence dwelling in the innermost parts…the Holy of Holies. The city is bustling; visitors everywhere.
Jesus approaches the temple – the house of God, His Father. Though he has seen injustice, hypocrisy, greed, selfishness, and worse His entire life, the scene at the temple fans His anger and zeal.
The outer court, the only place Gentiles are permitted to enter and pray, is consumed by commerce. Booth upon booth set up to sell animals to sacrifice for those who chose not to travel with them or those who had none pure enough to offer. Booth upon booth set up to exchange currency for the temple tax that had to be paid in local currency. At first glance, this doesn’t appear to be a bad thing. It is a convenience for the travelers and a way to support the temple. But that isn’t how it is operating. They charge an exorbitant fee for both, extorting and taking advantage of the people who have no other option. The religious leaders not only approve of this activity, they too are profiting from it. And they are doing it all on holy temple grounds. To be continued…
Questions: How can things become so routine that we forget how holy and special they are? Where have we tarnished things of God?
Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:13
In the bridesmaid parable there is no mention of the 5 on the outside being sinners. All 10 are sinners. We are all sinners. Sinless and perfect aren't the criteria for entry.
The difference between those who enter and those who are shut out is genuine faith in the work of Jesus and repentance (asking forgiveness and truly wanting to follow Him and change…even if we mess up frequently). It isn’t just receiving the invitation, looking the part, and carrying around an empty lamp. It is believing, knowing, confessing that Jesus is Lord and Savior. It is constantly refilling our lamps, making sure they are shining the light of Jesus. We can’t make the light shine just by holding the lamp. We need the Holy Spirit. We need to want to keep it full and bright. And it doesn't mean we get it right all the time...we won't! It is about deeply wanting to. It isn’t reciting magic words or being sprinkled with water as an infant; it is a changed heart. Jesus regularly points out the hypocrisy of the “religious” people He encounters who look the part on the outside, who say all the right things, who even want to be with God for eternity. They have on elaborate wedding clothes and carry a beautifully polished lamp, but they have no oil. They miss the key ingredient to create light.
This parable isn’t for us to look to the right or left to examine who has oil and who doesn’t. We likely won’t be able to identify them, and it is not for us to do. This parable is for us to look within to examine whether or not we are prepared. How will Jesus – who sees straight inside us – find us when He returns?
God, turn my eyes inward to see what You see. Let me never get too apathetic, lazy, content, assuming, to not be prepared for Your glorious return. Help me to be poor in Spirit, with a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit and forgiveness.
Questions: How can you keep your “light filled”? How would Jesus find you if He returned today?
“The door was shut.” (Matthew 25:10)
“Lord, Lord, open [the door] to us.” (Matthew 25:11)
“Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” (Matthew 25:12)
All accept the invitation.
All dressed for the occasion.
All carrying lamps.
All eagerly awaiting the celebration.
On the outside, no difference could be seen.
But only 5 enter the wedding feast.
Only 5 brought the extra oil needed to keep their lamps lit.
Only 5 were prepared to enter.
Jesus and the apostles tell us over and over again to be ready, for we do not know the exact time Jesus will return again.
This parable is a stern wake-up call about the consequences of not being ready. While the door is open wide now and Jesus is patient for all to enter, a time will come when the door is shut. And when it does, we won’t be able to borrow, transfer or share in the preparedness of others; it has to be our own.
Are you ready?
Challenge: Read the story of the 10 bridesmaids (some versions say 10 virgins) in Matthew 25:1-13. Think about where you see yourself.
…whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:27-28
Nestled between the rich man walking away and the blind men receiving their sight, Matthew shares three events. First, Jesus tells a parable of a master who hires laborers to work in his vineyard. Some are hired early and some toward the end of the workday, all with payment agreed to in advance. As the day comes to an end, the master distributes the previously agreed-upon wages, which happens to be the same for all of the workers. Grumbling, those who put in more hours cry out, “not fair!”
Jesus closes the parable stating that the last will be first, and the first last. He then tells them for the third time what is to come – He will be delivered over to the religious leaders, unjustly condemned to death, handed over to the Gentiles to be mocked, flogged and crucified. Unfairly persecuted. But on the third day, He will be raised.
Fresh off this weighty proclamation, the mother of two disciples approaches Jesus, asking that her sons sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in His kingdom. Jesus tells her and them that they know not what they are asking. Elevated status comes from suffering in this kingdom.
The rich young man looked to his possessions and clung tighter. The laborers in the parables looked to the right and left, comparing work and wages. The disciples looked to a worldly throne, hoping for royal status and position. The followers of Jesus continue trying to receive rewards according to the world’s standards and their efforts, while Jesus continues explaining that His kingdom and reward system is unlike any other.
If we’re honest, we often join in the grumbling, “not fair!” The truth is, we couldn’t handle fair. Fair lands us in hell getting the punishment we deserve. We need grace and God’s generous gift of salvation through the “unfair” and undeserved suffering of the sinless Son of God. Let us never begrudge the generosity of the Lord.
Challenge: Prayerfully examine your expectations of the kingdom of God and your role in the kingdom. How can you love and serve like Jesus?
They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Matthew 20:33
“Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The cries of two blind men. The following crowds attempt to silence them, but they cry out even louder and more determined, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
Jesus stops. “What do you want me to do for you?” He asks.
There is no hesitation. They know what they came for and what they want. “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” They want to be healed; to see.
Immediately their sight is restored. Immediately they follow Him.
The contrast between the blind men and the rich young man from Matthew 19 is worth examining. The blind men come in desperation. They know they are utterly unable to help themselves. The rich man comes pretty comfortable with his situation, but looking for that one missing thing…assuming it isn’t too costly to get. The blind men, poor in spirit. The young man, rich in worldly possessions.
“Teacher,” the young man calls out as he addresses Jesus. “Lord, Son of David,” the blind men cry out. The young man looking for a little more knowledge; the blind men looking for a Savior.
The rich young man and the poor blind men approach Jesus differently and walk away differently. Sorrowful, the young man walks AWAY from Jesus. Restored, the blind men walk WITH Jesus.
Oh, how it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. The perceived sacrifice is just too much. The perceived need is not quite as deep. But in walking away, the restoration never comes. Because the sacrifice pales in comparison to the reward and the need is so much deeper than realized.
Questions: Think about the different ways we approach Jesus with requests. How do you generally approach Him? How might that impact your mindset and the outcome?
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
Later in discussing the conversation about the young man that walked away because he couldn’t part with the one thing he valued over God, Jesus tells His disciples it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Harder than a camel getting through the eye of a needle hard.
The disciples are amazed and perplexed. They have grown up wrongly believing that riches are a sign of God’s blessing and favor. How then could anyone get into heaven, they whisper among themselves.
Jesus agrees it is impossible. Impossible for man to do it alone. But with God, ALL THINGS are possible.
On my own, letting go is impossible. On my own, saving myself is impossible. I must rightly recognize Jesus for who He is. Not just a great teacher, a humble servant, a gifted healer, a talented storyteller. He is the Son of God. The Messiah. My Savior. My Lord. Only with Him in His rightful position, with an accurate understanding of grace and salvation through Him alone, can I dig deep and recognize my sins and my need for Him to save me. Only then can I loosen my grip on the things I put above Him and follow Him. Because when I know who He is, what He did for me, and what He promises to do for me, then I can trust Him enough to let go of the things I think I need more than Him.
God, this is hard stuff. Soften my heart to know You, believe You, trust You, love You…so I can WHOLEHEARTEDLY FOLLOW YOU. Thank you for your love and patience.
Challenge: Spend time really evaluating your assessment of what takes first place over God. Ask Him to help you put these things in their proper perspective. Ask Him to give you eyes to see that He is above all things.
When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matthew 19:22
“What do I still lack?” the rich young ruler continues his questions to Jesus. Although he thinks he has kept all the Jewish laws and commandments, in his soul he knows something is lacking. It hasn’t brought him the satisfaction he thought it would.
Jesus cuts to the heart of the man’s problem -- the thing in his life that is keeping him from being fully devoted to God and putting Him first in all things. For this man, it is his wealth and possessions.
“Sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me,” Jesus responds.
Jesus knows many things can take first place over God, but money is a big one, tricking us into thinking we can control things; tricking us into thinking we are fulfilled; tricking us with just enough temporary satisfaction to keep us from seeking God.
While it was money and possessions for this man, it may be something else for you and me. It is anything we value over God; anything we are unwilling to give up to have more of Him. What God calls one person to give up, He allows another to keep. He alone knows what our heart is so tightly attached to over Him.
So, how does this young rich man respond? He sorrowfully walks away from Jesus. He walks away from the ONE thing he truly needed.
This young man knew something was missing; something was keeping him from life and peace. But when confronted with how to fill that hole, still he clings to that which he thinks he needs even more.
Questions: What is that thing for you? What are you clinging to that keeps you from entering into the closest relationship with Jesus? Your family, health, possessions, reputation, security, ambition, control…?
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16
Matthew tells of an encounter between Jesus and a young man that is a huge gut check on who we believe Jesus is and what we are willing to do as a result.
“Teacher,” the man calls to Jesus. Immediately we get an idea of who he thinks Jesus is.
The young man doesn’t recognize Jesus as Lord, but rather another good teacher who may be able to point him to that nagging thing that is missing in his life, despite all of his hard work, success, and wealth.
When we don’t rightly recognize who Jesus is, everything else is meaningless. Many throughout history and even today are quick to acknowledge Jesus as a good man and teacher who walked the earth. C.S. Lewis points out this can’t be; He either lied about who He was, was crazy for thinking He was someone He wasn’t, or He was truly the Son of God.
The young rich man continues with his question, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” This man is looking for that one last thing he can check off his list to be satisfied and EARN eternal life. Jesus knows that none of us can do it without Him; that we can’t earn salvation.
Jesus plays along, basically responding if he wants to do it on his own, he needs to keep the commandments. Something Jesus knows full well no one but He could do.
“All of these I have kept,” the man says, shedding light on another flaw in his quest for salvation…the inability to see his own sin. Does he really believe he has kept all the commandments his entire life? Impossible.
To be continued…
Questions: Who do YOU say Jesus is? How would you approach Jesus? What question would you have for Jesus?
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:3
Be diligently ready; Stay spiritually awake.
False prophets are coming in His namesake.
Remain ever alert! Do not be led astray.
Times will be trying leading up to that day.
Wars and rumors throughout the land,
It’s not the end yet, but it’s close at hand.
Nation against nation, famine, earthquakes.
Satan’s last stand; he knows what’s at stake.
Lawlessness abounding, love growing cold;
It’s not time to cower, It’s time to be bold.
Flee to the mountains, no time to look back.
Intense tribulation, of time, you’ll lose track.
Great signs and wonders false prophets display.
But do not believe it; don’t be led astray.
You’ll know it for sure when the Son of Man comes.
An incredible sight where He hails from.
Immediately after, the sun will go dark.
The heavens shaken; the contrast stark.
From clouds of heaven, the Son of Man appears.
All look upon it, shaking in fear.
Next come the angels with a loud trumpet sound;
all the elect, they gather around.
When it will happen, only the Father knows,
but when you see all these things, you’ll know it is close.
The final admonition: since we don’t know the time,
be always expecting to meet the Divine.
Challenge: Read Jesus’s account of end times from Matthew 24. What surprises you? What are your thoughts?
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come…” Matthew 22:2-3
the wedding day is here.
Call all the guests
from far and near.
No interest in attending,
other things more urgent;
declining the invitation,
even killing the servant.
Go invite others,
as many as you can.
The feast will continue,
I’ve got another plan.
Oh, but look at that man,
the one in the wing.
He’s here at the feast,
but he’s mocking the king.
Out he must go,
no room for him here.
Weeping he’ll do;
an eternity in fear.
You see, all are invited,
but not all say yes.
What about you?
Come, time to get dressed.
Put on humility,
love and submission.
Step into freedom and grace,
you’ve been given permission.
For all are welcome;
all have a choice:
or forever rejoice.
Challenge: Read this story in Matthew 22:1-14.
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none…” Matthew 12:43
Jesus tells a story about an unclean spirit that leaves a person. Good news, right?
Unable to find rest, the spirit returns to find it empty, swept, and put in order. Still good, right?
It brings with it seven other spirits even more evil than itself to dwell there, leaving the state of the person even worse than the first. Wait, what?
Jesus goes on to say so also it will be with this evil generation.
Isn’t it a good thing to get rid of evil? Isn’t it good to have a clean “house”…empty, swept, and put in order? We spent a lot of time breaking these habits and cleaning up our mistakes, after all. Shouldn’t that count for something? Or at least NOT be an invitation for more evil?
The truth is, when we leave something empty it becomes ripe territory to be filled. And if we don’t fill it with Jesus, the devil is happily waiting to find some temporary things to take His place.
Do we do as much filling as emptying? Deep abiding in God. Prayer. Meditation on His Word.
Jesus spent His days emptying Himself, always teaching, healing, mentoring. But He also constantly fills Himself. Jesus -- God in the flesh -- regularly gets quiet time alone to pray and talk to His Father. No mission could be more important than His, and He always found time to get filled.
Lord, empty me of me…both in the worldly things I cling to and in lovingly serving others…but don’t leave me empty. Fill me with Your power, Your peace, Your wisdom, Your discernment, Your love. Fill me with YOU.
Questions: What needs to be emptied in your life? How can you make sure it is filled with the goodness of God?
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
Jesus teaches us what to do when we are wronged by a Christian brother or sister. Repentance and restoration are always the heart of Jesus. Not bitterness, gossiping about it, or trying to ignore it.
Forgiveness isn’t based on others’ actions, but instead on our attitude. It doesn’t always mean reconciliation has to occur. Where reconciliation takes two, forgiveness only takes one. It doesn’t mean approval or acceptance of the wrong done to us. It doesn’t mean we forget. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for the offender. It simply means we free ourselves of the burden of it.
Jesus ends these instructions of addressing wrongs with statements on the power of unified agreement in prayer. Things like, “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” And, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Friends, if you are struggling with forgiveness, invite your friends to join you in prayer. Jesus will join you too.
Peter is feeling especially generous when he suggests we forgive someone who sins against us seven times, certainly much more than the traditional norms.
“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times,” Jesus responds. Not a literal seventy-seven times, of course, but a lot. And then a lot more than that.
How can we be expected to forgive so freely and so often? Because we have been so extravagantly forgiven. Over and over and over again.
We can forgive much because we have been forgiven much.
Questions: Why is forgiveness SO HARD? How does reflecting on all Jesus has forgiven us for help us to forgive others?
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Matthew 18:1
How do you define great? The disciples are still hoping for an earthly political kingdom, more powerful than that of their beloved David. Not only are they looking forward to this kingdom, as friends of Jesus – the king – they want a high-ranking position. They want to be great in Jesus’s kingdom. So they pose a question about who is the greatest in this kingdom.
As is often the case, Jesus’s response is not the one they wanted to hear. He calls a child to himself and sets the child up as the example of the greatest, saying, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Humility is what makes one great in this kingdom. Jesus modeled this by leaving His holy position on the throne in Heaven and being born as a child, humbly living, teaching, serving, healing, and ultimately dying to save us. THIS is greatness in this kingdom.
Humility is the foundation and backdrop for the ministry of Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Humility to strip ourselves of anything that causes us to sin and separate us from God. Humility to suppress our pride and pain and offer forgiveness when we have been deeply wronged. Humility to surrender control to the only One who really is in control. THIS is greatness in His kingdom.
Greatness is not found in social status, wealth, accomplishments, possessions, or earthly power. It is found in humbly submitting to and serving the One who is the greatest.
Questions: How does your idea of “great” differ from what Jesus is teaching? How can we make a mindset shift about what true greatness looks like?
For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20b
The foursome – Peter, James, John & Jesus – come down the mountain following the transfiguration and meet up with the crowd below. A man greets them whose son the disciples were unable to heal. The disciples had been given authority and power to heal by Jesus and they healed many, but this was a stubborn one. Jesus criticizes their lack of faith and instantly heals the boy.
“Why could we not cast it out?” the disciples ask. Jesus tells them they must have faith. It is tempting to read this and think we just need to muster up more faith. But Jesus is quick to point out that faith even as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. It isn't more faith...it is faith in the right thing. Faith in Jesus and His power alone. Faith in His purpose and plan and will. With this faith, nothing is impossible.
Sometimes we can get in a rut, going through the motions of what worked before. We can easily slip into putting our faith in a formula and lose sight of the true source of power. We need to come to Jesus. We need to put our faith in Him and His power.
We choose where to put our faith. If we are honest, we often put our faith in other things…things we think are within our “control.” Our sinful nature gravitates toward faith in ourselves. Big faith in our strength or wisdom or resources or past successes may produce little things at best, but even tiny faith in a big God can move mountains.
Question: What do you put your faith in? Really think about it. It is so natural to try to put our faith in ourselves instead of God.
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:23
High off of correctly calling Jesus the Messiah, Peter must have been feeling pretty special. He nailed it! Until… Jesus begins to tell Peter and the others what will happen to Him…suffering, being killed, rising three days later. Peter steps in. He just can’t help himself. This is the Christ. His friend. Peter wants to take charge and do things the way he thinks they should be done, which doesn’t include suffering and dying, that’s for sure.
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” Jesus responds. Ouch! Jesus’s response to Peter seems pretty harsh at first glance, but this was serious business to Jesus. This is what He came for, and no friend or foe is going to thwart it.
The devil is tricky, and no one knows this more than Jesus. Peter’s intentions weren’t evil. He loved Jesus. He didn’t want Jesus to suffer, or be rejected, or killed. Who can blame him? But this wasn’t God’s plan, and Jesus knew it. He recognizes the devil’s tricks, encouraging us to seek comfort, control, security. Avoid pain at all costs. Jesus couldn’t let this one slide. He had to call Satan out.
Our instinct is to try to fix things, and all too often we lean on our own solutions instead of God. In our fix-it mode, we could be preventing a mighty work of God on the other side. We think we are making things easier, but God isn’t about easy. God is about holy.
Have you ever been fired up for God about something and felt attacked out of nowhere…family, health, relationships, work? When we are earnestly seeking and doing the things of God, the devil works overtime to try to trip us up. We too can utter the words, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Challenge: Follow Jesus’s lead and cry out, “Get behind me, Satan!” when you feel attacked. Just saying these words can change your mindset, allowing you to see these kinds of attacks for what they are and to get back to the things God is calling you to do.
He [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:15-16
Jesus asks His friends – his disciples – who people say He is. They chime in with things like John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. Not a bad list! All respectable and beloved men, but far short of the fullness of the One who is asking the question.
Jesus follows up with a more direct question, ”But who do YOU say that I am?”
This is the most important question they will answer. It is the most important question WE will answer. Our answer to this question shapes our response to everything. It shapes how we live and how we love. It shapes where we will spend eternity. Jesus wants to know who those seemingly closest to Him say that He is.
Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
The true fullness of who Jesus is was revealed to Peter by God the Father. Peter’s eyes and heart were opened to who Jesus is.
Nearly everyone today will agree that a historical man named Jesus lived. A good man. A good teacher. A good rabbi. Not a bad list…but far short of the fullness who Jesus is. And anything less than the fullness of who He is misses the mark completely.
Who do you say Jesus is? Prepare your heart for the full revelation of who Jesus is. Abide in Him. Read His Word. Fix your eyes on Him.
Question: So, what about you….who do you say Jesus is?
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?
“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?