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?
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?
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?
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.
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...
The trinity reunited again…the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit converging. It’s go time.
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.
“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2
Matthew introduces us to three sets of people – the stargazers, the Jewish religious leaders, the secular king -- with three different responses to the birth of Jesus.
The magi travel from afar, following a star in search of a king. They enter Jerusalem, the natural place to get more intel on where to find this king of the Jews. Surely the current king of Jerusalem, Herod, or the Jewish religious rulers would know where to look.
The religious leaders, who studied, memorized, and taught the Scriptures constantly; the ones who knew all the prophecies by heart instantly respond, ‘Bethlehem’ when asked about the birthplace of their Messiah.
And while they pass this information on to Herod and the magi, they stay put. The journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is approximate six miles on relatively flat terrain, walkable in a couple of hours. Six short miles for what they have been anticipating for hundreds of long years. Yet, they don’t go. They are content in the lives they have built in the waiting. They aren’t even curious enough to go check it out. They miss Jesus.
Meanwhile, King Herod is filled with anger. He is not going to stand for any other king threatening his societal and political power and position. His plan is to destroy this child, even if means killing every male child two years old and younger in the land he is in charge of leading.
The magi go. They were paying attention. They saw the star. They sought out its significance. They searched for the king. They traveled a great distance. They worshiped and brought gifts. They weren’t about to miss Jesus, even though they didn’t fully understand what His birth meant.
Three characters. Three responses to the birth of the Messiah.
Questions: Where do you find yourself? How do you see these different responses play out in our culture today?
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…….and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. Matthew 1:2-6 (excerpts)
Matthew is the first book of the New Testament and is written for a Jewish audience. He wants to convince them that this baby, Jesus, was the Messiah they had been waiting for. The God-ordained, God-breathed, and God-organized books of the New Testament opens with the human genealogy of Jesus.
Not unlike today, the Jewish people were proud of their culture and heritage, eager to point out those in the family line who make them feel like someone. The genealogy of Jesus is no different. Before getting into the messy family tree, Matthew name-drops David and Abraham. They were big deals! Abraham, the origin of the initial promise & father of Israel; and David, the greatest king of Israel.
But in God’s graciousness to us, this genealogy also includes some not so lovely stories. Women (not normally included in genealogies) and relatives that at one time in their lives might have been considered major skeletons to hide in the family closet; those whose colorful pasts we might like to forget, but never forgotten by God. Tamar, who tricked her father-in-law, Judah (the leader of one of the 12 Tribes of Israel), to get her pregnant. Rahab, the prostitute in Jericho. Ruth, the Moabite widow. And Bathsheba (“wife of Uriah”) who had an affair with King David.
Before the Redeemer is introduced to the world by Matthew, His family is remembered – the good, bad, and ugly. Not only did Jesus come down from perfection, squeeze all His holiness into human flesh, and enter sin-filled humanity…. He did so in the midst of a messy family tree. Because the truth is, without Jesus we are all messy. We all have blemishes in our past and in our present. But God – through the human birth of His Son into this family -- can redeem ALL things in beautiful and glorious ways according to His perfect plans.
Questions: Why do you think these specific people were chosen to be called out and even remembered in the family tree of Jesus as recorded by Matthew and breathed out by God?
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife... Matthew 1:5-6
Still in the New Testament, we continue with the family tree that brought in our perfect Savior, Jesus. We see that the mother of Boaz, our hero in the story of Ruth, was RAHAB. Remember Rahab? She lived in a foreign land…Jericho, the first city God calls Joshua and the Israelites to conquer and fully destroy as they begin their entry into the Promised Land. She was the prostitute the spies encountered who hid the men to keep them safe. As a result, the Israelites spared her and her family when they ultimately destroyed Jericho. Like Ruth, Rahab made a decision to turn from the gods of her city and follow the God of the Israelites – our God, the one true God – and live among them.
Let that sink in…Rahab was the mother of Boaz! Think of the lessons she taught him as a child, recounting her redemption story and all that God had done for her, even as a foreigner.
The entire Bible, from the beginning to the end, points to Jesus. The life and story of Ruth is no different. Redemption comes at the hand of the One True God.
Like Rahab and Ruth, we have chosen to follow God, the Creator and orchestrator of all things. Like Naomi, without God and the gift of His Son Jesus, whom He sent, we will live a lonely, bitter, helpless life. We need a redeemer to bring new life.
We don’t need to be born into the “right” family, fully understand all of the laws and customs, or even be “good enough.” We only need to step into the arms, under the wings, of the Redeemer. We are never too far away to be saved if we are willing. All things, even those not condoned by God, can ultimately be used by Him. Even if you don’t have it all figured out or have it all together, choose God…and then watch Him work.
Challenge: Spend time reflecting on God’s power, mercy, and grace.
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was TAMAR, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was RAHAB, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was RUTH, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been URIAH’S WIFE… Matthew 1:1-6 (caps added by me)
We are taking a detour to fast forward to the New Testament account of the genealogy of Jesus. Four women are mentioned in the family line (which was extremely unusual). Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife.
Before we get to Rahab and Ruth, we see Tamar. Her story is recorded in Genesis chapter 38 and it isn’t pretty. Tamar was married to Er, the oldest son of Judah (the son of Jacob and the wife he was tricked into marrying. Leah). Er was extremely wicked, leading to his death at the hands of God. When Er died, the Jewish custom would have been for one of Er’s brothers to redeem her by caring for her, marrying her, and having a child with her to preserve Er’s family name. But the second oldest son was also wicked and died at the hands of God. Judah doesn’t keep his promises to Tamar to provide for her so she takes matters into her own hands. She disguises herself as a prostitute and Judah takes the bait. She gets pregnant and has a child, Perez, who we see in the family line of Jesus. Tamar is both the daughter-in-law of Judah and the mother of his child.
Don’t be afraid to say it or think it…this is a terrible story. None of this sinful behavior is directed or approved of by a holy God. It is evil in His eyes. But despite unholy people, God’s forward-looking plan continues. God is faithful even when we are not. God’s plans will always prevail. We want to be on Team God, even though we will live it out imperfectly. He is sovereign and always in control.
Questions: Why was it important for God to preserve accounts of these people and decisions steeped in sin and messy living? What can we learn about the character of God in these stories?