Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your mat, and walk.” John 5:8
Still on the mat, you shift your eyes from the “magic” pool – the thing you thought would heal you, but only left you in the same miserable place -- to the eyes of Jesus.
And at once you know you are healed.
Louie Giglio says, “Every day we hold on to something with a clenched fist is a day we miss the possibility of God putting something amazing in our hands. When we let go, we don’t lose out.”
What keeps us stuck on our metaphorical mat? Things that keep us hanging out in circles that bring us down instead of lift us up. Things that make us feel unsatisfied, rather than grateful. Things that make us hate things about ourselves instead of realizing God can’t wait to use them for a purpose designed for us. Things that make us keep going back to what we know we shouldn’t do…what we know doesn’t work.
What are we looking to as the “magic” pool…the “if only” and “what if” we think is the answer? What if we slowly unclenched our cramped hands from around the edges of the mat and looked instead to Jesus?
And when we turn to Jesus, then we get the power we need to get off our mat. We can do the impossible. We can walk in freedom and healing. We can be who God created us to be.
Then we pick our mat up and carry it instead of letting it carry us. We carry it not to shame us, but to remind us from where we have come. And in the same power that got us up off the mat, we never lay back down on that dirty, smelly, wretched, battered mat. God, let it be so.
Challenge: Where are you currently feeling dissatisfied with yourself or your circumstances? Think of what you have been trying to do about these things in your own power. Now decide to look to Jesus. Talk to Him about how to help you see the circumstances and solutions through His eyes.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. John 5:2-3
Thirty-eight years lying on a mat, unable to walk. Imagine the things that mat has seen. Though you are desperate to get off the mat, the mat has become quite comfortable to you in a sick sort of way. It is almost part of you now…your identity; who you are. You despise the mat and cling to the mat at the same time.
“Do you want to get well?” That is the question Jesus asks.
Of course! The impulse reaction. But then you start thinking about life up from the mat. Unknown. Scary. Unpredictable. You start to wonder if the misery of the mat is preferred to the messy unknown. You start to wonder if you will make it apart from the mat. You rationalize that laying by the pool and living off of scraps and handouts isn’t so bad. The real truth is, it seems so impossible.
“I have no one to help me….” “If I could just….” “If only….”
The thing that put you on the mat isn’t in your head. It is real. It is hard. It is painful.
You’ve been trying to get off the mat for So. Many. Years. You know what it takes to get off the mat, and you know you don’t have it. You’ve long given up, but yet you keep at it nonetheless.
Are you willing to try something else? To loosen the grip on the familiar and what you think you need to get well? Jesus comes to show us another way.
Questions: What things are holding you back from the things God has for you? What are your “if I could just ____” or “If only I _______”?
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5
“Son, your sins are forgiven,” Jesus says.
Wait, what?!? …the friends of the paralyzed man who carried him to Jesus and lowered him through the roof must be thinking. They came for healing, not forgiveness of sins.
Jesus always knows what we truly need. The heart of all of our hurt and suffering and deepest need is rooted in sin. It isn’t that this man’s health is directly related to his sin, it is that ALL OF US have a sin issue that only Jesus can fix.
Jesus went there first because any other secondary need addressed will never bring us peace and wholeness. And THEN Jesus healed his physical need, “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home” (Mark 2:11).
Jesus healed his soul and then healed his body, enabling him to walk in freedom out of the crowded room he moments before needed his friends to lower him into.
A sweet friend, Julie Seals, summed it up perfectly, “where the world says, ‘you made your bed, now lie in it.’ Jesus says, ‘Rise! Take up your bed and walk.’”
Jesus says the same to us: “Your sins are forgiven….Rise!....take up your bed and walk.” Pick up that thing you keep laying in and leaning on, and follow me. Where the world seeks to condemn, Jesus seeks to redeem.
Jesus stands ready to meet all of our needs, starting with the most pressing one of our sins. Rise! Walk in freedom.
Questions: How do you think “the world” (people you know, our culture in general) looks at sin? How does this compare to Jesus?
And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. Mark 2:4
Whispers abound…the healer is in town. He’s preaching at a house only a few miles away. The foursome packs up a few supplies for the trip and secures their beloved friend on his pallet, each with a corner of his bed resting on one shoulder. I wonder if they talked among themselves on the way there, or if they were unusually silent, keeping their thoughts to themselves.
They make good time, just over an hour. When they reach the house, it is packed. People even spilling out into the entrance.
They only let disappointment set in for an instant before coming up with a plan. They climb the rickety staircase leading to the roof, careful to balance their friend. Climbing a few steps and then waiting for the crew at the back to catch up until they reach the top. They lay their friend down as they begin to piece by piece remove the roof tile. As the hole gets larger, they can’t help but stop to peek in and hear what the teacher is saying. Surely this is the one who can heal their friend. At last, the hole is big enough to fit the pallet through. They each take a wrap they brought and secure it to their designated corner of the bed. Slowly and steadily they lower the pallet. Wobbling all the way down, it lands with a loud thud in front of the teacher. It causes quite a stir. All eyes fixed on the helpless man in the messy bed.
The men rush down the back stairs and push their way through the crowd. Now the waiting. It is in the teacher’s hands. What will he do? They are certain healing is coming.
To what lengths do we go to put our friends in the presence of Jesus? Not only do they have faith, but they are also willing to do the hard work to see it produce fruit. To not just say it and think about it and pray about it, but to act on it. We all need friends willing to carry us to Jesus!
Questions: Do you have friends like the paralytic man? Are you this kind of friend? What would you do to bring your friends to Jesus?
And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8:3
In the last devotional we saw a miraculous healing. Jesus was willing; the man was healed.
Fast forward to Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion. In agony, He prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
We all know how this story ends. Jesus dies a brutal death. God could have removed the cup. Jesus could have saved Himself. But Jesus was the one willing… willing to die for us on his own accord. It had a purpose. It was a bigger and better plan…the only one that could save us.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 Paul recalls… “ So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Three times Paul pleads for healing. But the suffering continues. It had a purpose. To keep Paul humble and to demonstrate God’s power.
It is tempting to look at the leper’s story in Matthew and declare, “Yes! The Lord is willing. We will ALWAYS be healed if we sincerely come to Him and ask.” The truth is, in this human, temporary realm on earth, we may not be. The Lord is able, but due to surpassing knowledge we can’t yet see, it doesn’t always happen. Not because He doesn’t love us – He loved His Son and He loved Paul – but because He sees a bigger plan.
God wants us to love Him and follow Him, not because we will always get what we want, but because He is worthy. Healing or not, God loves us and has good plans for us. He sees the bigger picture and it is so very good.
Questions: Can you trust God even when the healing doesn’t come? Do you still believe in His goodness and love for you and sovereignty?
“Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he says. Matthew 8:2
A leper approaches Jesus amidst great crowds. An outcast. Banished from society. Unable to have anyone near him, much less touch him. It is humiliating, but he is desperate. Full of sores, weary from living this hard and lonely life, he kneels before Jesus.
“Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he says.
Lord, if you are willing.
This man has no doubt Jesus is worthy of worship; no doubt Jesus CAN heal him. He just isn’t sure if Jesus is willing for reasons beyond his understanding.
Jesus replies, “I will; be clean.” With those words, the man could be healed and cleansed, but Jesus shows even greater compassion. Jesus stretches out His holy hand and touches him. Likely the first touch this man has felt in a very long time. Immediately, the man is cured and cleansed.
Lord, if you are willing.
In this story, Jesus was willing and able. The healing came.
But what about the times it doesn’t?
To be continued…
Questions: What are your initial thoughts about the idea of God being able to do something, but perhaps not willing? Under what circumstances do you think God would not be willing?
… he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Luke 5:4-5
Simon Peter hauls his boat in from a long night of fishing with no success. He begins to clean his nets hoping for better luck tomorrow. Before he even finishes washing the nets, Jesus climbs into his boat and asks him to put it out a bit. With a front-row seat next to Jesus, Peter listens as Jesus teaches.
As Jesus wraps up His lesson, He tells Peter to put the boat in the deeper waters and let down the nets for a catch. Um…okay…but, you know we fished all night with no luck. The conditions haven’t changed. And you’re a carpenter, right??...what do you know about fishing? Peter might have been thinking. But Peter does it, and he is rewarded with more fish than the boat can handle. Peter could have called it a day, made excuses, even argued with Jesus, but he would have missed out on this beautiful invitation, “From now on, you will be catching men.” Jesus meets Peter in his place of work and weaves it into his calling.
Jesus teaches in boats, along the dusty roads, in homes, on the mountainside, and even in the synagogues. He wants everyone to have the opportunity to hear the good news. He meets His disciples – the ones to carry on His ministry – where they are working; in the ordinary course of doing their jobs. He meets them in their mess and monotony, but He doesn’t leave them where they are. He radically changes their lives. He has good news to share with them, so they, in turn, can share the good news with others.
Jesus meets us where we are too. In the ordinary, busy, messy and mundane. He says, “follow me.” We can look the other way, make excuses, try to tidy things up first, or we can follow Him and be radically changed. In our own power, we can fish all night with nothing to show for it, but Jesus has deeper waters He wants us to cast our nets in.
Question: What deeper waters might Jesus be calling you to cast your net into?
You have circled this mountain long enough; now turn north. Deuteronomy 2:3
Back in the Old Testament, after years of wandering, God told the Israelites, ”You have circled this mountain long enough; now turn north.” It was time to enter the Promised Land.
Sin is looming with devastating effects. Sometimes the way we are going isn’t getting us to where we need to be. Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah… the promise of good news, liberty, freedom. The year of the Lord’s favor.
Maybe we have circled the cultural mountain long enough…doing what the world says instead of what God says. We’ve circled the mountain long enough…of striving, shame, bondage, pain, heartbreak. We are impoverished, broken-hearted, enslaved, blinded, and oppressed by it. Perhaps today is the day we will accept Jesus’s offer of freedom and new direction, and say, “no more!”.
Perhaps today is the day we will turn our eyes, heads, hearts, entire posture NORTH...in God’s direction. Because Jesus came to proclaim liberty; TO. SET. US. FREE.
We have the scrolls – God’s Word – to open, read, and teach us. Directions to guide us North instead of back into the mountain-circling pulls of culture and temptations from the devil.
God, help us to rely and depend on You alone. Let us desire the things that bring You glory above all other things that end in death instead of life. You alone are enough. Your Word is enough. Help us keep from circling the mountain of self and sin and instead turn north. Eyes up and on YOU.
Questions: What things in your life are distractions and diversions from your focus on God? Are you ready to stop circling the same figurative mountain and head north? How can you make substantive changes in this direction today?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. Luke 4:18-19
What is the liberty Jesus is speaking of that He is fulfilling from the Isaiah passage He read? Liberty from sin and its devastating effects. But what are the effects of sin?
Sin impoverishes. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor. To share and to be the Gospel, an invitation to a glorious royal inheritance.
Sin breaks hearts. Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted. To right wrongs. To heal the deep-down hurts caused by sin.
Sin enslaves us…to evil desires, to coveting, to comparing, to envying, to striving, to self-glorification. Jesus came to give liberty to the captives. To set us free from all that sends us spiraling down a path of exhaustion, depression, hopelessness, frustration, loneliness, bitterness, joylessness.
Sin blinds us. We can’t see the truth. We fall for false prophets and promises. Jesus came to give us recovery of sight. To help us set our eyes and focus above, not behind, inside, in front of, or side to side.
Sin oppresses us. Suffocates us, bullies us, shames us, harms us, confines us. Jesus came to set at liberty the oppressed. To set us FREE.
Sin leaves us in a place that doesn’t quite feel like home. We’re not where we were created to be, and we long for things to be made right.
Jesus came to physically heal these things during His three-year ministry, but it is also a foreshadowing and sneak peek at the ultimate spiritual healing and freedom brought about by His death, resurrection, and promise to return to make all things new again.
Challenge: Examine each of these impacts of sin and think through examples you have experienced or seen.
Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Luke 4:21
Jesus walked into a synagogue one Sabbath day. Something He regularly does. This particular synagogue is special. It’s in His hometown. It’s one He has been to countless times, listening to the religious leaders and traveling teachers preach from the Scriptures. He has returned from some time away. This time, He is the traveling teacher. The crowds settle in after singing a few hymns, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah is handed to Him. He takes it is His calloused hands from years of carpentry work. He slowly and carefully unrolls the scrolls. He knows exactly where He is going – Isaiah 61 – and He begins to read….
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
There is nothing unusual at this point for the gathering families. He rolls the scroll back up and hands it to the attendant. As He sits down, a hush comes over the room, all eyes fixed on him. “How will He explain this?” they wait to hear.
A nine-word sermon: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Whoa...they weren't expecting that!
Jesus is essentially declaring Himself the Messiah; the long-awaited Anointed One; the Christ. He gives a peek into His earthly ministry, a taste of what the Messiah will ultimately accomplish, reversing and renewing the damage brought about by sin.
Good news to the poor. Liberty to the captives. Sight to the blind. Liberty to the oppressed. The year of the Lord’s favor.
Questions: What do you think Jesus means with the words from the scroll of Isaiah He says He will fulfill? What things was He sent to do?
So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him. John 4:28-30
The woman at the well hears noises as the disciples return. Her heart is pounding. She sees now. The Messiah. Here. Seeing her; speaking to her; loving her. A Savior for even her; especially her. She drops all pretense, prejudice, push-back, preconceived notions, pride. She drops the water jar and runs as fast as she can back home. “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
Jesus wants to offer us living water too. Are we ready to receive it? Do we see a Messiah or a match for religious debate? Do we see a Savior or no bucket, focusing on circumstances our limited eyes can see? Come, see...
It starts with understanding our sin and need for a savior. Jesus brings the woman to a point of facing the thing that has brought her sorrow and shame. He is the one who can wash it clean. We just need to speak it and repent of it and accept His gift of forgiveness and renewal.
Just as water is needed for survival, Jesus comes to bring eternal water that not only satisfies but also never runs out. And when we experience the love and grace of God to find us – even in our mess – and offer us a gift of Salvation, we can’t help but tell others.
The woman becomes an evangelist…she goes and tells others about Jesus and people come to see for themselves. Not only does she meet Jesus, but she becomes a catalyst for her entire village to meet the Messiah. This one Divine encounter. This one woman who came to a well during the worst time of day to avoid being seen, who was shunned in the town for her sinful life, who was living in guilt and shame…this woman was seen and loved by Jesus and her life was forever changed.
Challenge: Head over to YouTube and search “Woman at the Well spoken word” posted by lalaland481 for a powerful spoken word from the perspective of the woman at the well.
The woman said to him, “I know the Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” John 4:25-26
“Go, call your husband, and come here,” Jesus says to the woman at the well after she expresses interest in the water He offers. But He knows she needs more than physical water. He knows she needs to acknowledge her need for the spiritual water He offers. No time to mince words, He gets right to the heart of the matter.
"I have no husband," she quickly responds. Why? Why do we have to go here, I imagine her asking herself. The truth is, she had five previous husbands, and the man she is with now is not her husband. It’s part of her shameful past and shameful present. This is her life. Almost in sync with her silent reflection, Jesus speaks it all out loud. He knows. He knows of the husbands. He knows of her current living situation. He knows she is a Samaritan, a woman, a sinner and He is still speaking to her. And the kindness with which He speaks…she has never experienced anything like it. Ever. It is all too much to take in. Change the subject… she tells herself. Think, think. Ahhh, a long-debated religious disagreement between our people… “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship,” she blurts out.
He isn’t distracted or diverted though. He explains that the time is coming – now; here even – when the Father will be worshiped in spirit and truth. He is looking for such people to worship.
This is feeling too personal; too close to home. Her head spinning; the questions too vast to verbalize as she responds, “I know the Messiah is coming…He will tell us all things.” She doesn’t understand, but she knows who can.
“I who speak to you am he,” Jesus replies.
To be continued…
Question: Are you comforted knowing God knows everything about you – the good and the bad – and still pursues you? Think on this today.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14
The Samaritan woman processes this encounter at the well. What is he thinking? No Jewish man is permitted to talk to her. A woman AND a Samaritan. Much less ask for and offer a drink. Is this a trick? Has he a sinister plan? All these thoughts likely dance in her mind. Her thoughts morph into words as instead of accepting His offer, she asks what he is doing talking to her.
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water,” Jesus answers the woman at the well.
He doesn’t even have a bucket to draw water, she reasons, unable to look beyond the immediate circumstances she can see. Did he just say IF I knew the gift of God? And living water? Who does he think he is? Better than Jacob who dug this well? Her emotions are floating between anger, confusion, and intrigue.
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” He says. He is on a mission with His words. He isn’t interested in winning an argument about a well; He is after a soul today.
Never thirst again, she thinks. Never walk to this blasted well again. Never carry the heavy jug miles back home. She is in. She doesn’t know what he is talking about, but the sound of never thirsting again is awfully appealing.
To be continued…
Question: Why do you think Jesus uses water and thirst to talk about what He has to offer this Samaritan woman at the well?
A woman from Samaria came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” John 4:7
Beads of sweat drip onto the wisps that have long fallen out of her pinned hair. Hot. Tired. So sick of the long and lonely daily walk. But she would take that any day over the jeers and looks she would surely get coming earlier or later when the noon sun wasn’t set high in the sky. Besides, there is something peaceful about the quiet walk alone. Lord knows, things aren’t peaceful back at home. How had she gotten herself into this situation again? Why does she continue to go back to what didn’t work any time before? But what choice does she have? She feels unworthy; unlovable. She regularly replays the highlight reel of her mistakes on this daily walk. And just as often she pushes the thoughts away. What good does it do to dwell on them? She reminds herself she made her bed, now she must lie in it. This is her lot. The recurring conversation in her head is as exhausting as the recurring walk to the well.
Beads of sweat pool on His hairline. Hot. Tired. Weary from the journey. But He is excited; expectant. He HAD to come. A divine appointment ordained thousands of years ago. Something beautiful is happening today, He mutters under his breath as the well comes into view. The disciples long gone to get food for the evening, Jesus sits. Right on time…He sees her. His heart is full. He silently prays to His Father.
Looking up she sees someone at the well. Oh boy. Why can’t I just do this in peace, she thinks? She braces for the insults she knows will be coming. From His attire, she can tell He is Jewish, and a rabbi no less. Let’s just get this over with…her likely attempt at a pep talk to herself.
“Give me a drink,” He says.
To be continued…
Questions: Do you believe God orchestrates encounters? Is there a person God put in your life at a time when you were trying to avoid people?
This is the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. John 2:11a
At the wedding that had run out of wine, Jesus tells the men to draw some water out and take it to the master of the feast. Again, it doesn’t make sense, but again, they do what He tells them. I picture the scene…the men holding their breath, all eyes are glued to the master as the ladle reaches his lips. They know it is only water in the jars. They filled them with their own hands. What will he say?
“You have kept the good wine until now,” he says. Exhale. Shame diverted. Not only wine but the BEST wine.
The first of His signs that manifested His glory is how John describes it. It might seem a strange way to begin the unfolding of who He is, but it is a beautiful picture of what Jesus is here for and what He will do.
The jars for ceremonial washing were continuously emptied and filled. Emptied and filled. Washing that is repeated over and over again. It is never complete. Jesus came to change that. Before the miracle, He told His mother it wasn’t His hour, but It won’t be long before it will be His hour. He will turn the constant re-cleansing into a one-time restoration. A cleansing not with water, but with His blood.
A problem we can’t solve on our own, Jesus comes to solve for us. The cleansing of sins we can’t accomplish on our own, no matter how many times we wash, Jesus came to take care of once and for all with His blood. But His bloodshed isn’t the end of it, on the third day, He will rise from the dead. Death will be defeated.
Water to wine. Old to new. Never enough to never again.
This, the first of His signs.
Questions: What are your thoughts on the significance of this first miracle? What other symbolism or foreshadowing do you see?
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” John 2:5
If you were Jesus, how would you announce your ministry? Would you hold a huge press conference? Start big…raise someone from the dead? Peel back your flesh to reveal the brightness of your glory? Turn water into wine at a wedding? Wait, what???
“On the third day…” John tells us Jesus is at a wedding. Crisis ensues. The wine runs out. Major social faux pas. “They have no wine,” the mother of Jesus says to Him.
Though He has not yet performed any miracles, she knows He can do something about this. We know so little about the childhood and early adulthood of Jesus. What had she seen? How long she must have been waiting for what the angel revealed to her thirty years earlier to come to pass.
“Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus replies. Not disrespectfully, but matter-of-factly. His mother does not fully know, but Jesus knows, that His hour will involve His suffering and bloodshed.
One might think that is the end of the discussion. Not Mary. She turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Do. Whatever. He. Tells. You.
Tucked in the corner of the room are six stone water jars used for Jewish rights of purification; ceremonial cleaning according to the law. Jesus instructs them to fill the jars with water. The men aren’t sure how this will help with the wine situation, but they obey. They fill them to the brim…and they wait to see what Jesus will do with it...
Questions: How would you introduce yourself to an audience? What words or actions would you use for them to know more about you?
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
The fact that Jesus spent so much of his time with known sinners and people otherwise forgotten by the Jewish religious community brings about questions as to how we are to live as His followers.
On the one hand, we are called to be set apart…to be in the world, but not of the world. To strive to live an obedient life and avoid sin and temptation. But on the other hand, we are to go out into all the world and tell people about Jesus.
On the one hand, we do try to avoid putting ourselves in tempting situations where we know there is sinful activity or behavior. But on the other hand, we want to reach people and tell them of another way of living that brings life instead of death.
We are all sinners, no doubt. But some of us recognize it and want to change, while others are content living in it. The world is full of people who don’t see or appreciate a better way of living.
So how do we know what we are to do? One rule of thumb is to look at who would be the influencer and who would be influenced. Jesus could always enter into people’s lives and environments steeped in sin and know that He would never be influenced. He was always the influencer.
If we have a choice to enter a situation or relationship where we are more likely to have sin rubbing off on us than our love of Jesus rubbing off on those we are with, we should reconsider entering into it. Going to a party to get away from “church people” or to “have a little fun without judgment or accountability” is quite different than going to be kind and show another way of living and behaving so others will see and wonder what makes us different.
Questions: Are you more likely to be influenced or an influencer? Are there situations you know you should avoid because of weaknesses in your life?
But when he [Jesus] heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13
In speaking this to the Pharisees, Jesus is fully aware that all of us are sick apart from Him. The difference is the Pharisees didn’t know it. In their minds, they had nailed the whole righteous religious thing. Jesus tells them to go and hear the meaning of these Scriptures they love and know so well, specifically pointing them to Hosea 6:6, ”I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”
In Hosea’s time, the Jewish people were going through the motions. They were offering sacrifices religiously. But they were far from God. They had no love; no mercy. These Pharisees would know Hosea by heart as Jesus quotes it.
Bound up in their religious ritual and favored social status, the Pharisees had no love; no mercy. Only rigid laws and judgment.
On the outside, the Pharisees looked perfect. Inside, their heart was hard.
On the outside, Matthew, the sinner at the tax collector booth, looked hopeless. Inside, his heart was open. He immediately follows Jesus and wants his friends to do the same.
Substance vs. show; Mercy vs. more religion; Grace vs. guilt; Love vs. lists.
Jesus invites sinners to His table. Not to judge or condemn or lecture or have their bad behavior rub off on Him, but to love in order to save. And at this table, the invited find healing, life, hope. As they get up from this table, they desire nearness to God, obedience, a life that bears good fruit, and for their friends to join them at the table.
Questions: What do you think it means to someone to have a person love them in their mess? Why do you think love and relationships are so important to people seeing and knowing Jesus? How can we display this in our lives?
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. Matthew 9:9
Well off, but despised, sitting at his booth. A traitor. A sinner. An extortioner. Passersby glance the other way, hoping not to get harassed. Whispers of judgment hardly quiet from the Pharisees in their elaborate religious get up. One man doesn’t look away or condemn. He sees potential. Jesus says simply, “Follow me.”
Not likely, one would think. Why would a businessman not concerned with religious rituals follow a simple traveling teacher? But not so of this businessman. Matthew rises and follows.
Not only does Matthew rise and follow, but he also invites his friends and associates – fellow sinners – to come and recline; to come and eat with this teacher who saw something in him no one else did. Something the Pharisees would never do or condone.
This brings about the questions Jesus already knows is in the heart of the Pharisees, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11)
Rather than demonstrating God’s love and grace – God’s invitation to FOLLOW HIM, the religious leaders of the day avoid, ridicule, and shun those they deem sinners. They see Jesus calling Matthew and eating with his fellow sinner friends and think, why would this supposed teacher associate with “those” unclean people?
Sadly today, as Christians, we can often do the same. We can remain in our Christian bubbles and avoid the “sinners.” But we are all sinners, and in condemning rather than extending Jesus’s invitation to follow Him, people who need Jesus just as much as we do never meet Him.
Questions: What reaction do you generally see from Christians to people they deem sinners? How do you think this impacts their desire to follow Jesus? What do you think non-Christians think about Christians in general? Is their view justified or off-base?
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20
Jesus begins His ministry with the same words as John the Baptist, the messenger preparing the way, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Two messages: Repent FOR the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The awaited Savior and king has arrived. The kingdom is at hand. A new eternal kingdom, and it starts right now!
Jesus begins by calling disciples, or students. People who will carry on His ministry after His mission on earth is fulfilled. They will walk with Him and learn from Him and receive instructions from Him.
Who would you pick to be on your team? The most qualified? The most educated? Those with the most experience? Those with the most financial resources? The strongest, smartest, best looking, savviest speakers?
Like we saw in the Old Testament when God selected prophets and the first kings, God sees things differently than we do. He sees inside not outside; He sees our potential not our current circumstances.
Jesus selects an unlikely group of students. Fishermen, tax collectors (despised by the Jewish people), ordinary people with no formal education or training.
In this new kingdom, things aren’t the same as in the world. God sees our hearts. He sees what He created us to be. He sees our potential. He picks us when the world might otherwise overlook us. He says, “Follow me.” Our job is to say, “Yes, Lord. Here I am.”
Questions: What characteristics would you look for in picking your team? Why do you think Jesus chose the crew He chose to be His students? Do you believe that God also chooses you? Are you ready to follow Him?
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1
Just after Jesus was publicly declared the beloved Son of God, He is led away to be tempted by the devil. Be alert, friends! I firmly believe the devil pulls out his best moves when we are on the brink of God using us for something big. If you are feeling especially tempted, a huge blessing and calling may be patiently waiting on the other side of your overcoming.
The temptation of Jesus calls out the devil’s strategies, and more importantly, how we can overcome them. You see, the devil is sneaky, but he is also predictable. Three temptations are thrust upon Jesus. Familiar temptations in the devil’s playbook. 1 John 2:16 sums them up, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” These were the same temptations used against Adam and Eve to thrust sin into the world and give the devil a temporary authority over it.
The devil knows our weaknesses…using our gifts for selfish purposes, lusting after and coveting things that aren’t ours to have, needing to prove ourselves, and striving for power and self-glorification.
Adam and Eve failed their temptation by the devil. We do too at times. But Jesus never did and He shows us a way to overcome. Jesus doesn’t resort to some supernatural power unique to Him to combat the devil’s temptations…He uses something available to us too: He is prepared with prayer and fasting before the temptation comes and He uses the Word of God to fight the devil. In response to each of the three temptations thrust upon Jesus by the devil, Jesus quotes Scripture.
Prepare yourself now, before temptation comes, in prayer and abiding with God. When temptation comes – and it will – have Scripture handy. Then with open eyes and an obedient heart, be on the lookout for God’s next assignment that perhaps the devil was trying to keep you from.
Challenge: Commit a Scripture verse or two to memory to help fight temptation when it comes.
He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30
Have you ever felt really in your element? God nudged you to start something and you did. People pay attention and respond. It just feels right.
But then something or someone enters the scene and things begin to change. Attention is shifted. Audiences decrease. You wonder what happened. You clearly heard God call you to this. Why doesn’t it seem to be successful anymore? You question your role.
The disciples of John the Baptist are going through this same identity crisis. They love the Lord. They have been part of John’s ministry for some time now. People are coming from all over, repenting, and being baptized.
But then Jesus comes. It is joyful at first as they hear their beloved teacher announce that Jesus is the Messiah they have been waiting for. They witness the Holy Spirit descending on Him and the voice of God speak as Jesus is baptized by John. They are part of something big and beautiful.
Until their crowds start to decrease. The attention disappears. People are flocking to Jesus instead of them.
They still love the Lord; they are still all in, but somewhere along the way, they have tangled up their role with the true reward. John, their teacher, tries to re-shift their focus upward…the one they have been preparing the way for has come. Jesus is to be glorified, not us.
Sometimes our role or assignment or passion can become our god and even our work for Jesus can take the place of Jesus in our heart. Jon Bloom says, “We must remember that our role is not our reward. Jesus is our reward. Roles will begin and they will end. And the only way for us to end well is if in our heart Jesus has increased and we have decreased.”
Questions: God’s Word is such a gift and opportunity for self-evaluation. In the excitement of a role, have you ever forgotten the true reward? Have your roles (even those for Jesus) become the reward you are seeking instead of Jesus? Is your goal always to point to Him and glorify Him?
I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11
Jesus comes to be baptized by John (HIs cousin), not because He is in need of repenting and forgiveness, but as part of what was spoken about Him by the prophets. When Jesus arrives, John knows instantly that He is the one.
We don’t know much about what happened between the miraculous events surrounding Jesus’s birth and the start of His public ministry (roughly 30 years). I wonder if He ever interacted with His cousin, John, or if His family often saw little glimpses of His holiness during his childhood and teen years. However it went down in the private spaces among the family and friends of Jesus, His holiness can’t be contained much longer.
Something incredible happens at the moment of Jesus’s baptism...
I often wonder what it must be like to have God publicly declare you His Child with whom He is well pleased. But here’s the cool thing: because of what Jesus accomplished for us, WE ARE His sons and daughters too. He calls us beloved. In us, He is well pleased…in all our slip-ups, sins, mistakes, shortcomings, and quirks, Jesus’s blood covers it all. When God looks at us, He sees Jesus. We aren’t a failure or disappointment to Him. When we repent of our sins and accept Jesus as our Savior, the Holy Spirit descends on us too. And God looks at us and says, “[Insert YOUR name], my beloved son/daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”
Challenge: Write and repeat these words today, inserting your name…“[Insert name], my beloved son/daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” Reflect on these words from God to you.
And he [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Luke 3:3
Many are coming to be baptized by John – the one prophesied about crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord.
“What then shall we do?” the multitudes ask John the Baptist. The ordinary. Poor. Oppressed. The same question comes from the wealthy…the ones who got that way often via extortion. And the soldiers -- the strong and powerful; the bullies and oppressors -- also chime in, asking the same. Newly baptized and repentant, they all ask, “what now?”
Repentance puts us all on the same playing field. Three vastly different backgrounds and social statuses, one unifying question upon repentance: what then shall we do? The responses differ for the different groups, but they all relate to possessions. How we covet our possessions and possessions of others; how we use our power; how we use our influence; how we treat those around us and the less fortunate.
To the poor among the crowds: if you have an extra tunic, share it with one who has none. Likewise, if you have food. What little you have, share even that. To the wealthy tax collectors: collect no more than is authorized. Don’t cheat. Deal fairly in business. To the soldiers: don’t extort money by threats and false accusations; be content with what you have. Use your power wisely.
Real repentance – real faith – leads to action. Loving our neighbor where we are with what we have. Treating people fairly. Contentment over coveting. “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance,” John tells the newly baptized.
What then shall we do? The specific answer will differ for all of us, but will also likely relate to how we use our possessions, power, and influence, and how we pursue loving God and loving our neighbor.
Questions: What then shall we do? In the places you hang out, your circles of influence, and opportunities that present themselves…how do you think God is asking you to respond?
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47
Not much is told of Jesus’ childhood. He came to earth as a baby. Like all of us, He learned to eat, to walk, to talk, to play. I wonder when He was fully aware that He was the Son of God; that He WAS God in the flesh.
The second chapter of Luke swings from His birth, to His presentation at the temple as an infant, to His family at the Passover celebration in Jerusalem when He was twelve.
The Jewish faithful traveled in large groups of family and friends each year from their hometown to Jerusalem for the Passover Celebration. You can picture the children as they journeyed with cousins and friends…laughing and playing along the way. At some point on the way back home, Mary and Joseph realized Jesus (age 12) was no longer with them. Imagine their panic as they frantically bounce from family member to friend asking if He was with them.
After three days they find Him. The entire time He has been planted in the temple, sitting at the feet of the various teachers listening and asking questions. We are told the people are astounded at His understanding at such a young age.
When His distressed parents find Him and question Him, He says, “Do you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Twelve was the traditional age for young boys to start learning their fathers’ trades. While Joseph was a carpenter and Jesus was likely learning this skill, His true calling and business was that of His Father in Heaven. We are told that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” This is all we learn about Him until He begins His public ministry 18 years later.
Questions: For fun, think about yourself at age 12. What were you doing? What were your priorities? What would you sit hours for?