Saturday, March 01, 2014

Reading Matters

I remember seeing a poster somewhere proclaiming “Readers are Leaders.” Certainly the basic truth here is evident but I greatly fear there is need for some additional specificity. I’d vote for expanding it to say “Readers who read the right things are leaders.”

Today we are being deluged with published sludge that neither informs nor tests the mind. We’ve become addicted to news that comes in 140 characters or less, or can be compressed into a titillating paragraph with an attention grabbing headline. Broadcast news has perhaps nourished us to this end with its reliance on a high entertainment, low content format. Throw in good looking anchors with a penchant for shallow wit and you’ve got a Nielsen winner.

One look at the publishing industry will confirm that the primary reason a submission becomes a book is the belief that it will make money. If someone will buy it, you’ll find it rolling off the press. The problem is this makes the market sovereign over content.

It was an essential axiom early on in the development of educational philosophy that reading was necessary for several reasons. First, it imparts knowledge in large doses and can be used as a delivery system for almost every subject. Second, it engages the mind, initially by making sense of the ink on the page, and then in linking word meanings together to make thoughts, which compound to bring ideas together for analysis and reflection. Reading is a monumentally important cerebral exercise even as it can be both entertaining, and mood regulating. Reading has intellectual benefit, but also can engage the emotions deeply so that, in essence, it can reach out and grab and hold and affect the entire person.

But all this depends on what you’re actually reading. We need to rescue the novels that used language well from the discard pile labeled “classics.” We need to insist that our young people not only be taught, but forced to adhere to the rules of English grammar and style. We need to show them that reading great literature, and forcing ourselves to interact with the great ideas of great thinkers in not dry and dusty but rather invigorating and able to bring about mature intellectual muscle.

Has anyone else noticed that the appreciation of grammar, capitalization, spelling, sentence structure, and overall communication has taken a societal nosedive corresponding to the rise in texting, email, and clever marketing slogans? The truth is we tend to write in the manner of the material we read. Unfortunately, we also learn to think in conformity to what we read. I greatly fear that truncated reading has led to shallow thinking, speaking, and – unfortunately – leading. I truly ache to hear some leader give a speech without hundreds of “uhs”, that truly uses language which makes spirits fly, and inspires those listening to resolute action. I’m talking Churchill, Roosevelt, Lombardi, King, and Reagan.

Of course, I must put in a plug for reading the #1 bestseller of all time, the Bible. And if you are interested in reading the Bible along with a daily commentary from me, you can go to and sign up for an emailed reading every weekday, for free.

I believe those who read good literature learn not only facts but how to think, analyze, reflect, and ultimately, lead their own lives and those around them. Let’s just hope that our nation, which has been accused of being the death of English, will not also put reading in the grave. Then again, given that you just read this column, maybe I’m just preaching to the choir.

Accountability and Purpose

When Charles Darwin penned his final draft of On the Origin of Species in 1876 he gave the world a game-changing worldview. Up until that time it was generally held that the only explanation for the reality of things was the intentional activity of a higher power, usually understood as supernatural and divine. Darwin’s theory of evolutionary natural selection offered a way out. He declared that he could explain the reality of our world, and everything in it, without God.

The scientific establishment was exuberant in their acceptance of Darwinian evolution for the most part. He had freed them from any accountability to a creator. If there was no creator, there could be no accountability. Man could now do what he wanted, when he wanted, without fear of a future judgment day.

But, in a “be careful what you wish for” way, the unintended consequences of this new found libertarian freedom have come to haunt us. More and more we see life as ultimately meaningless. After all, if we are just the common consequence of an evolutionary process that has taken billions of years to get to us, then our lives are just momentary blips on the radar screen of history. We are just a link from one generation to another in a long line of evolutionary mutations that had no purposeful beginning and certainly no intelligent purpose or goal.

In a very real way, destroying accountability has also destroyed meaning and purpose in life. According to scientific naturalism (the new hip term for what Darwin birthed), everything you are, think, feel, and become is the result of materialistic processes. You and I are just an ongoing manipulation of electrons, neutrons, and protons that is random and without purpose. There was no reasonable purpose that began the process, and there cannot be a reasonable expectation that our lives are headed for some purposeful end. We just are, for a time, and then we are not.

You can see how this philosophical understanding of the meaning of life gives wings to two disparate conditions. First, the fact that we came from goo and are heading to goo means that nothing in life ultimately matters, so we ought to seek to do whatever gives us the most pleasure. We hope that most will find pleasure in decency, honesty, sacrificial service, and altruism, but there really is no basis to insist upon this way of living. In an evolutionary world, even truth will be in flux. Our only accountability is to ourselves, to go for the gusto.

Second, despite the freedom we have to pursue our greatest desires, ultimately we will come to see that life is unbearably sad. If you are born, live, and then you die, the lack of an ultimate meaning for living will bring about a very real heaviness to the soul. We try to overcome this with new things and new thrills but eventually everything becomes mundane, predictable, and unsatisfying when viewed against the backdrop of the very real purpose-less ethos of naturalism.

Richard Dawkins, a leading atheistic philosopher and author puts it this way: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

Charles Darwin gave us a theory that has ultimately led some of our finest thinkers to tell us that life has no meaning because our universe is the result of purely random physical processes.

But the fabric of scientific naturalism is beginning to unravel. Many realize that the immaterial elements of life, like consciousness, love, satisfaction, and joy cannot be explained materially. A whole host of eminent scientists and philosophers including Francis Collins and Thomas Nagel are suggesting a new paradigm is warranted.

I am sure billions of dollars will be spent trying to concoct such a paradigm, but I can save you the trouble of waiting. God does exist, despite Darwin’s attempts to the contrary. And we exist, not as a result of a random, purpose-less process that pushes sub-atomic particles around until something good happens. Rather, God has created each one of us to be unique, valuable, and endowed with a spiritual component. We have been created as his image, with the great purpose of caring for his creation and honoring him in obedient worship.

Life has meaning. You and I matter. Our lives do have a purpose, but only as we recognize our relationship to our Creator. It is this very accountability that makes life valuable and living meaningful. 

The Well: February 10-14

The Well: February 10-14

Feb. 10: Matthew 7,8

In the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount,  Jesus finishes his instruction and moves to apply it. He does so by means of a series of "twos." He speaks of two gates, two trees, and two men. In each case he is comparing the right with the wrong way to live. But, just who is being described? We might think that the "twos" describe the lost and the saved, but in this case we have to consider Jesus' audience. In Jesus' day - as in ours - there were actually 3 (not 2) kinds of people: the irreligious, the religious, and the true followers of God. From the beginning of the sermon it is clear that Jesus is comparing the religious (those who considered themselves right with God because of their adherence to external ritual and custom) and those who truly were fearing and following God from the heart. The "twos" refer to these two groups.

The two gates refer to the way of religious ritual, and the way of faith. The first is wide because it appeals to our pride and desire to be right with God on the basis of our own actions. The second is narrow because it is the way of humble dependence upon God alone. The two trees again represent those whose fruit is rotten, whose assurance is based on their own accomplishments, in contrast to those who are "known" by God and follow his ways in humble obedience. The last contrast shows that real "wisdom" is found in understanding Jesus' teaching and grounding one's life on it rather than on personal religious effort, no matter how fervent.

When Jesus finished the crowd were astonished not only at his content, but also that he taught with authority. In the end, Jesus had personified the very contrast he had come to make known. In contrast to the religious leaders of the day, Jesus spoke with the authority of God and not just from a position of man-made tradition.

In chapter 8 we see Jesus beginning his public ministry. Matthew continues to present him as a greater Moses by describing the miraculous works Jesus performs. Peter will later remind his listeners that the miracles were actually God's way of proving that Jesus was Messiah (see: Acts 2:22).

The miracles of Jesus are meant to show that he brings the power of God to right the wrongs of sin. Each fits into one of three categories, and we see them all demonstrated in this chapter:

Jesus has the power to heal disease: The first great consequence of sin is death, and disease is seen as a preview of death. When Jesus heals the leper he shows that he has the power necessary to reverse the curse. Ultimately, this power will be fully seen in the resurrection.

Jesus has the power to rule over creation: The stilling of the storm demonstrates that Jesus is The Lord of Creation, and has the power that will ultimately be seen when all creation is re-born (see: Romans 8:18-23).

Jesus has the power to overthrow Satan: Jesus' power over Satan and his demons is seen in the release of the Gadarene man. This demonstrates that the power necessary to overthrow Satan's kingdom and re-establish the Kingdom power of God over all creation has come to earth in Jesus. The cross will forever settle Satan's fate, and ultimately he and all his minions will be consigned to judgment (see: Hebrew 2:14,15; Revelation 20:7-10).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, once again I am amazed at my Savior Jesus Christ. Thank you for sending him to us, to bring your wisdom to us, and to show that all power has been given to him in heaven and in earth. He is The Lord of all, and The Lord of my life. May I live as one fully submitted to his love and truth today, through the power of the Spirit that dwells in me, Amen.

Feb. 11: Matthew 9, 10

As Jesus continues his healing ministry we see that the ultimate goal is not mere physical healing. In dealing with the paralytic he begins not with the physical but with the spiritual and tells the man "your sins are forgiven." Here we begin to understand that the mission of Christ was much more than physical wellbeing. The power of God is not primarily designed to make us feel good, or meet our felt needs. Our greatest need is deliverance from the penalty, power, and very presence of sin. This is the reason Jesus came: to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

For the first time we see Jesus encountering opposition from the religious leaders. The Scribes were the lawyers of the day. They knew the law backwards and forwards, and were considered the experts at telling the people what it really meant, and how they were to live. So many traditions and interpretations had been layered on the Law that common folk were truly in the dark as to what God wanted from them. The Scribes wielded great power, asserting that they knew what was too complex for most to understand.

The calling of Matthew is found in this chapter. He was a tax collector and as such was seen as an agent of the ruling Roman government. That Jesus would call such a man signals that he came to save sinners not appease the religious leaders of the day.

Throughout the Old Testament the prophets wrote that Messiah would be known by the miraculous acts he would perform. Two of these were " the blind will see, and the dumb will speak." Matthew presents two incidents in this chapter that show Jesus doing what Messiah was prophesied to do. From this we see that Matthew's intention in the book is to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

Chapter 10 chronicles the calling of the rest of the Twelve, as well as their first attempts at representing the message of Jesus. Once again we see that the authority to do miracles was given to those that were official spokesmen for God.

In the mission of the Twelve we see the fundamental truths that will hold true for all future Christian ministry. Those who carry the message of faith in Christ must live it out in complete trust in him for all things. They also will face opposition and even persecution at times. But they are not to fear those who oppose them for human opposition is not the enemy. Rather, fear should be reserved for God alone, for he alone holds the keys of life and death. Representing the message of God in Christ demands complete surrender to The Lord. Only those willing to lose their lives will find life.

It is clear that Matthew wants his readers to understand that neutrality in regards to Jesus is never an option. There is no such thing as being a 'half-way' follower of Jesus. But, in great contrast to the myth that following Jesus means losing everything, Jesus reminds his disciples that all who receive the message, receive him, and all who receive him gain everything including an eternal reward that can never be taken away.

Prayer: Father, you have called me to yourself even though I know I don't deserve your love. You sought me out, and gave me new life through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Help me to love you more deeply, to trust you more fully, and to realize that in living my life for you I lose nothing, but rather gain all that life is really meant to be, through Jesus Christ my Savior, Amen.

Feb. 12: Matthew 11, 12

We first met John the Baptist back in chapter 3. Now we find that he has been put in prison. The miracles and teaching of Jesus have become widely known and many, including John, are beginning to wonder just who this man is. John sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask him point blank: "Are you the promised one, the one who is to come?"

Jesus, aware that anyone could claim to be Messiah instead reminds John's disciples of the Old Testament list of miraculous works that would prove his claim. The blind will see, the lepers will be cleansed, the lame will walk, the deaf hear, and the poor will be given the good news! As we have read Matthew's account of Jesus' life so far it is clear that he has lived up to the audit list!

In the remainder of the chapter Matthew reiterates the message of Jesus in the end of chapter 10: Neutrality regarding Jesus and his message is not an option! Already the religious leadership of the day has wrongfully begun to oppose him. Their inconsistency is clear in that they criticized John for his spartan lifestyle (neither eating nor drinking) while ridiculing Jesus for eating and drinking (he is a glutton and a drunkard!). That Jesus partook of the food and wine of the day is obvious here though the charge of drunkenness was unfounded.

Neutrality if not an option for cities either. As Jesus travelled around, he found that many refused to heed his words and repent of their wicked ways. It is interesting to note the statement of Jesus regarding Chorazin and Bethsaida. Apparently, God knew all along what it would take to bring Tyre and Sidon, as well as Sodom, to repentance. Yet, those things were not done in those cities. It is clear that God is not morally obligated to try and motivate everyone to repentance. In this case however, the message of God is powerfully presented and attested through the teaching and miraculous acts of Jesus, but to no avail! Those who do not repent and follow Christ will be judged. Neutrality is not acceptable. But, those who come to Jesus will find rest for their souls. These are the ones to whom the Son has chosen to reveal himself as Lord and Savior.

Chapter 12 finds the opposition against Jesus on the rise. He is criticized for allowing his disciples to eat grain on the Sabbath, and for healing on the Sabbath. He goes on the offensive and declares that his opponents will be "known" by the fruits of their lives. Good trees bear good fruit, but their lives are producing opposition to the very Son of God.

Three times in this chapter Jesus declares that his coming has brought "something greater." He is "greater than the Temple" in that he is the very presence of God among the people. He is "greater" than the Jonah event in that he has brought the announcement of God's saving power to the whole world. He is "greater" than Solomon because he is the very personification of the wisdom of God. Yet, it is clear that many will turn away from Jesus and refuse to take advantage of his free offer of eternal life.

Again the question of neutrality is raised. The parable of the return of the unclean spirit is spoken against the prevailing opinion of the day. Many would be benefited by Jesus, by his healing power, by his teaching. Yet, this benefit - like the leaving of the unclean spirit - would not be lasting if they refused to take an active and obedient posture toward Jesus and his message. Neutrality would eventually mean that their final state would be worse than their beginning. When presented with the truth of Christ, the only good option is to entrust our everything to his keeping, and follow him in obedience. To do so is not to lose, but to find, life indeed.

Prayer: Father, today I will have many opportunities to live out my love for you. Help me to be consistent. Help me to be courageous as well as compassionate, to reflect both your love and your truth in the way I talk and walk. Forgive me for too often thinking more of myself than I do of you. Thank you for loving me, and for reminding me that you will never let me go, all because of Jesus, in whose Name I pray, Amen.

Feb. 13: Matthew 13,14

Amidst the rising opposition of the religious elite Jesus turns to using parables. To our minds this seems very strange. The disciples thought so as well and asked for an explanation. It is important that we understand Jesus' point here. Parables are meant to give the message of God, but only in a way that some will understand. The "some" are those mentioned in 11:27 as "those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (God). It is clear that, unless the message of the Gospel is combined with the life-giving power of God, there will be no heart-felt understanding, no conviction, no repentance, and no saving faith. This fundamental principle is illustrated in the first parable of the Soils.

The parable of the soils presents 4 different soils representing 4 different kinds of human hearts. The only one that we can say is "saved" is the last one where fruit is produced (remember: fruit is the only evidence according to 7:15-20). And why did this soil produce? The only reason is that the rocks and weeds had all been removed. The soil had been prepared to receive the seed in the best way. This is the role of the Spirit. The Apostle Paul explained this same thing in 2 Corinthians  3:6,7: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."

In all this chapter presents six different parables. Each speaks to the entrance of the Kingdom of God through the coming of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom has come, being inaugurated through Jesus. Yet, the consummation awaits a future time (when the King will return). Until then, the Kingdom will grow through the power of the Gospel and the Spirit, and participation in the Kingdom will be the most valuable thing anyone can gain in this life.

Jesus' rejection at Nazareth is evidence that the principle behind the parables is at work. Despite his teaching, his miraculous works, and his evident divine authority,  Jesus is rejected in his home town. Many years later the Apostle John would get it right: "He came to his own, and his own did not receive him ..." (John 1:11).

Chapter 14 finds Jesus once again presented as a "greater than" Moses. In chapter 5 Jesus went up on the mountain and spoke the Law of God. Now he finds himself out in a desolate place, late in the day, surrounded by a huge crowd of hungry people. And like Moses in the wilderness, Jesus feeds the people. But Jesus does not rely on manna from heaven; rather, he creates it! Taking the lunch of a small boy Jesus once again demonstrates his miraculous power over creation. He multiplies the molecules of the bread and fish and feeds 5,000 men, plus women and children! Matthew is carefully, but clearly, presenting Jesus as the one who brings both the truth of God, and gives life from God.

By this point we the readers are wondering just how the disciples are responding to Jesus. They have a front row seat on his teaching and his miracles. The answer is given in the event where Peter is enable to walk on the water. Despite the fact that Peter will act impetuously and foolishly, it is also true that he was a man of great courage. Here we see that he was also ready to believe. Yet, in the midst of faith it appears that his thought turned away from trust in the power of God to concern for his own wellbeing. Once again we see illustrated the fundamental truth of faith: Faith is first a turning from self to entrust our lives fully to God on the basis of the promises made to us in Christ. When Peter began to fear he might lose his life, he began to sink.

Prayer: Lord, my faith seems so small, and so weak at times. But Lord, I do love you, and want to follow you closely today. Help me turn my eyes away from my own selfishness to focus on your truth so that my life might be a testimony to your great love and power today, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

Feb. 14: Matthew 15,16

As Jesus' fame spread, religious leaders from Jerusalem made the trip up north to Galilee to confront Jesus. Their mission was to undermine his growing popularity by showing the people that he was not following the Law of God. Their subject was defilement, and they considered that Jesus' practice of allowing his disciples to eat with unwashed hands was both physically and spiritually wrong. Jesus took advantage of the opportunity to set the record straight. It is not what we take in that is defiling to us, but that which is hatched in our hearts and minds. What defiles is sin, not dirt.

At this point in the story Matthew begins to introduce an element in the ministry of Jesus that may at first go unnoticed. He chronicles Jesus' interaction with a Canaanite woman who would have been understood as a non-Jew living among the nation of Israel. That Jesus commends her faith is a sign that the Kingdom has come, not only to rescue Jews but all. We are reminded of God's promise to Abram in Genesis 12:3 that "in your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed." And while the Old Testament people of God were sure that this meant that one had to become an Israelite to get to God, it is clear here that one must merely come to Jesus.

The grace of God to the Gentile world is also demonstrated in the story of the feeding of the 4,000. Some consider this to be a re-telling of the previous story (feeding the 5,000) but it actually is a second demonstration that Jesus has come to bring life. The text makes it clear (and Mark's account confirms it: Mark 7:31-8:10) that Jesus was east of the Jordan, in the region of Decapolis, when this event takes place. This was a region populated by Gentiles. That Jesus feeds the Gentile crowd shows us that God's plan to bless all nations through the redemptive work of Jesus is about to begin.

Chapter 16 shows Jesus once again confronted by his opponents who demand that he dance to their tune and produce a miracle on demand. Once again Jesus refuses to be pushed into their mold. He leaves that region and travels north with his disciples and along the way we are given another glimpse of their maturing faith. Once again their concern is for their own wellbeing. They had forgotten to bring food. It is obvious that they had forgotten their first mission (10:5ff) as well as the fact that they were traveling with Jesus who had already demonstrated the ability to make a meal out of  almost nothing! Their concern for themselves meant a lack of trust in Jesus.

Their journey takes them to the foot of Mt. Carmel, and the cliffs of Caesarea Philippi. This region was known for the many shrines chiseled into the cliffs of the mountain, dedicated to a whole host of pagan deities. Many of them were consecrated to Pan, and can still be seen today. Against this backdrop of pagan shrines Jesus asked his disciples "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" After hearing various answers,  he put it more directly: "who do you say that I am? Once again we see Peter leading out. "You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God."

As the chapter ends we find Peter at the midpoint of his class in Jesus-ology. Up to this point, Jesus has been teaching and demonstrating just who he was! And to his credit, Peter passes the midterm with flying colors. He got it right! Jesus was the Messiah, God's Son.

But now Jesus begins the second half of the class and details what he came to do. The mission of Christ was not merely to teach and heal and prove that he was the Messiah. His mission to save his people from their sins demanded that he die! Hearing this Peter shows that, while he loves the fact that Messiah has come, there is no way he is going to let Messiah die! It is apparent that Peter needs the second half of the class!

In closing Jesus reiterates what true faith is. Peter's actions show that is mind is not set on trusting God and forwarding his plan, but on his own agenda which is, ultimately, aligned with Satan's plan. True faith in God will mean surrendering up our human agenda, identifying with the crucified Christ, and following him closely. To do so will be to trade our "this life agenda" for God's "new life agenda". Those who do so will find true purpose and satisfaction in this life and in the life to come.

Prayer: Lord, I confess that there is quite a bit of Peter in me. I gladly confess that you are the Christ, the Son of God. But when it comes to following where you go, and where you want me to go, I am too often more interested in my own comforts, my own pleasures, my own agenda. Father, forgive me for my selfishness and pride, and work your ways in me so that I might delight in you today, and in obeying your will rather than mine, to the glory of Christ, Amen.

The Well: February 3-7

The Well: February 3 – 7

February 3: Genesis 47, 48

Jacob and his sons, and their entire clan have been rescued from starvation, and brought to Egypt. Here we see the continued blessing from God on Jacob. The best land in Egypt is given to the clan and they prosper during the same period that found the Egyptians having to sell both their possessions and themselves to Pharaoh in order to stay alive.

Joseph’s trials, at the hands of his brothers, have turned out to be the very plan of God to bless the clan of Jacob. They have been brought to a place where they will grow into the nation that God promised to Abraham.

Despite their prosperity in Egypt, Jacob recognizes that it is not his home. He will not allow his sons to bury him there. The promise that he extracts from them is meant to show a final maturity in him. He has come to recognize that Canaan – the land God has promised to him and his children – is his home, the land of promise, the land so connected with God’s promise to make of them a nation from whom will come the “he” to deliver the world from the brokenness of sin. Jacob understands it now, and Moses lets us understand this by beginning to use the name Israel interchangeably with Jacob in these final chapters.

In a scene very much reminiscent of his own appearance before Isaac many years before, an aged Jacob now welcomes Joseph and his two sons – Ephraim and Manasseh – and grants the sons a blessing. And like Jacob’s gaining of the blessing from Isaac, Jacob engages in some surprises. He stretches out his hands and grants the younger son – Ephraim – the position of honor. This is highly unusual, but we have come to expect such things as we have traced the promise through Jacob rather than Esau, his older brother and firstborn. This also sets us up to understand that God is in charge, and when he chooses Judah (Abraham’s 4th son) instead of Reuben, Simeon, or Levi, we recognize that God works according to his plan, and is not bound by human wisdom or tradition.

Prayer: Gracious Father, today I realize that you have granted me your blessing, through your Son Jesus Christ. Because of him I am accepted and forgiven and empowered to walk as your child. Thank you for drawing me to yourself, for opening my eyes to my sin and your grace. Lord, may everything I do today reflect that fact that I am yours, and you are mine, forever! In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

February 4: Genesis 49, 50

Today we finish the great book of Genesis. In it we have seen the establishment of the world, and the people of God, and the promise of God that will eventually bring deliverance to all creation in the person of Jesus. We’ve traced the beginnings of the promise, and will see its continued fulfillment in the coming Old Testament books.

The book ends with two significant “tie downs” to the themes we’ve already seen being traced through its chapters. First, in chapter 49 we see each of Jacob’s sons stand before him to receive a “blessing” from him. This blessing, granted to each of the sons, continues to declare the theme of God’s promise to restore what was lost in Eden through a people that will emerge from Abraham.

The individual blessings speak about what will happen to each of the brothers “in days to come.” Jacob is peering into the future, and pronouncing it.

As soon as we hear Reuben’s – the firstborn – blessing, we realize we are not going in the traditional direction. He is cursed for his sexual defilement of his father’s concubine. Simeon and Levi are grouped together and are disqualified as well for their treachery in Shechem.

Judah is the first to receive a substantive blessing. Here we see him elevated, and symbolized as a lion (The Lion of Judah). Vs. 10 is a prophetic declaration of the future Davidic kingly line.

All of the individual blessings are short compared to those of Judah, and Joseph. As we have seen, these two brothers occupy central stage in the unfolding drama of the final section of Genesis. Joseph appears as a “type” of the Messiah who is rejected by his brothers, sold into death, rescued by God and raised to a place where he can deliver his people. But, in the end, it is Judah who is chosen to be the line of promise. Through Judah will come the house of David, and from David’s line will come Messiah – Jesus the Christ.

Prayer: Father, thank you for preserving the story of Genesis. In this great book I have traced your sovereign care for your creation, and the promise of deliverance for your people. You have proven yourself to be faithful, even when circumstances seemed insurmountable. Lord, work your ways in me, that I might be faithful to you today, through the power of your Spirit who lives in me. In Jesus Name, Amen.

February 5: Matthew 1, 2

Today we begin the Gospel of Matthew. Tradition is strong that the author was one of the 12 disciples whose calling to leave the business of collecting taxes to follow the Lord is found in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:13-17 and Luke 5:27-28). The book itself seems aimed at Jewish readers as seen in the numerous times Old Testament events and teaching are mentioned.

Matthew’s reason for beginning with a genealogy is apparent. Given that his theme will be the appearance of the Kingdom of God, it is necessary to demonstrate the “kingly” stature of Jesus as descended from David. The title in vs. 1 gives it directly. Jesus is “Jesus Christ (Messiah) the son of David.”

There are some interesting facts about Matthew’s genealogy: There are 4 women mentioned, which was highly unusual for that day (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah). Of them two are non-Jews. Of Jacob’s 12 sons we see Judah as the one through which the Messianic promise will be fulfilled. Matthew clearly distinguishes Judah as preeminent through the phrase “Judah and his brothers.”  Both Perez and Zerah are mentioned since they are twins, but the promise line runs through Perez, the second born.

The supernatural conception of Jesus is set forth without apology, and the character of Joseph as a righteous man is clear. What they and their culture may view as disgraceful is actually the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) originally made to Isaiah himself, and now seen as transcending that historical situation to speak dramatically to the plan of God.

The actual birth of Jesus is not described seemingly because Matthew’s purpose for writing demands other material be given to the reader. The visit of foreign royalty, the Magi, shows that Jesus, while born in lowly circumstances, was himself royalty.

Their appearance before Herod provokes him to action and the decree to slaughter the babies threatens to undo what God has done. But, like their forefather Jacob and his family before them, Joseph and Mary and Jesus are “rescued” from danger by travelling to find refuge in Egypt. The themes of Genesis are still being recounted in the lives of those through whom the ancient promise of Messiah will now be fulfilled.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, help me not to marvel at the birth of Jesus only during Christmas. May every day be filled with awe at your love, that you would give your only Son to deliver me from bondage to sin. Lord, help me to take every advantage of the opportunities you send my way today, that through my life you may be glorified. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

February 6: Matthew 3, 4

As you read these two chapters you probably noticed several times (thinking of chapters 1,2 as well!) that use was made of Old Testament texts. Matthew’s audience was most certainly primarily Jewish, and his presentation that Jesus was the Messiah would carry no weight if it could not as well be shown that his life was a fulfillment of several Old Testament prophecies.

The coming of John the Baptist as the “forerunner” is an important element for Matthew. John’s message is a proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. His job is to announce the coming of the King so that the people will be prepared to welcome him correctly. That John dresses and acts like Elijah of old only enhances his position and proclamation.

Like most Old Testament prophets, John illustrates his message with a ritual. In this case, it is baptism. At the time, there were three distinct places a person could be “ritually cleansed”: The Temple ritual at Jerusalem was in full swing, while the exiled community of Qumran offered ritual cleansing as well. But Jesus, knowing that his choice would communicate identification eschewed both Qumran’s community and the religious establishment of Jerusalem in order to identify with John’s message. And at his baptism, Jesus is announced to be the Son of God by the Father. In this event we see the triune God acting in concert: Father, Son, and Spirit.

The temptations brought to Jesus by Satan provide his readers with a poignant comparison with Adam. Unlike the first Adam who succumbed by disobeying God’s Word bringing death and brokenness, Jesus – the second Adam – overcomes Satan’s temptation with the Word. This catapults Jesus into public ministry.

The calling of twelve disciples must remind us of the twelve sons of Jacob from whom the nation of Israel came. Israel’s great purpose was to bring forth the Messiah. Now the Messiah will bring redemption to the world through the spiritual offspring of Abraham … the church (Galatians 3:29).

Prayer: Dear heavenly father, once again I am in awe of the way you oversee all things. Thank you for showing me the great plan of redemption that brought Jesus to our world, and to me. I know that I don’t deserve your love, but I also know that your love for me has changed my life. Father, keep me ever grateful for your forgiveness, and grow my faith and knowledge of you that I might be more useful for your kingdom, through Jesus my Savior, Amen.

February 7: Matthew 5, 6

Jesus’ public ministry was immediately able to draw great crowds. His authoritative teaching and his ability to heal all manner of diseases made him an immediate sensation. People travelled distances (4:25) just to see and hear him. Here we see that his mighty works have given him a certain validation among the people. They want to hear what he has come to say.

The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5-7 is known as The Sermon on the Mount and describes Jesus’ first recorded exhortations to the people of his day. It took place in a natural theatre on the slope above the Sea of Galilee. While the specific audience was his disciples, it is clear that he intended the large crowd to eavesdrop as well.

At first glance it is easy to see that the teaching of Jesus has great parallel to the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. He ascends a mountain, and begins giving instruction to his disciples and the crowd. His teaching begins with a list of specifics known as the Beatitudes, just as Moses first received the Ten Commandments. He goes on to speak about the Law using the formula “You have heard … but I say …” five times in chapter 5. But Jesus is clear: he has not come to abolish the Law or Prophets (the teaching of the Old Testament) but rather to bring their teaching to its intended fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. He is here asserting that he is a Law-giver, and the people – like Moses – would do well to recognize his position and follow his pronouncments.

The religious leaders of Israel had for years piled thoughts and interpretations on the Old Testament to the place where the original intent of God had become largely obscured. Like an oak table that has been painted, and varnished and painted time and again, the Law must be loosed from its layers of human tradition. This is what Jesus does.

Chapter six presents Jesus’ ethical guidelines for living worthy of God’s heart, as revealed in chapter 5. He specifically speaks to the religious activities of the day, but impresses the audience with the need for heart-felt sincerity toward God. Helping the poor, praying, and fasting are considered but the principles extend to all the areas of human endeavor. The summary is this: Seek the things of God and the Kingdom first. Make his righteousness your focus, and find your security in him.

Prayer: Father, today I ask that you would help me to be “poor in spirit”, to realize that you are great, and I am fully dependent upon your grace, mercy, and strength. Keep me from thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think, but also to consider rightly the position you’ve given me in this world, the privilege I have of knowing you, and the partnership you’ve called me to in displaying your truth and love in my world, through the Spirit of God who dwells in me, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

The Well: February 24-28

The Well: February 24-28

Feb. 24: Matthew 27,28

In the first verses of chapter 27 the desire of Jesus' opponents to be done with him reaches its conclusion. The conspiracy has brought together the religious elite, as well as Jesus' own disciple Judas. But behind the scenes has been Satan, the great enemy of God. 

Matthew's account of the death of Christ comes with none of the modern fascination on his suffering. Rather, he takes great care to demonstrate that the various parts of the event happened according to God's plan, in fulfillment of prophecies made centuries before. 

Jesus stands as the one wrongfully accused yet silent before his accusers. Despite the fact that he was guilty of no crime, and had gone about the land doing good and teaching God's truth, the people are adamant in the choice to have a known criminal released to them. In all of this we see a display of the fact that it is human nature to "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (see: Romans 1:18).

Since only the Romans could deliver a death sentence, Jesus is sent to Pilate where he is condemned to crucifixion. He is mocked and then led away to die. 

As he dies, Jesus shouts "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" This memorable first line of Psalm 22 points the onlookers back to this prophetic Scripture where the elements of his death are described. The cross is no accident. It has been God's plan from long ago.

Jesus is buried, the tomb is sealed and a guard set. Yet, nothing can prevent God's plan from being fulfilled. What man has meant for evil, God has meant for good, and the resurrection validates Jesus Christ as God, and sets the scene for the mission of the Kingdom to be taken to all nations. The charge given to the disciples by the Risen Christ still stands as the marching orders of the Church.

Prayer: Father, I thank you for the cross, where Jesus took my sin on himself and bore the punishment I deserved. I thank you for the empty tomb where the power of death was forever broken. Lord, help me carry the message of Christ into my world today, knowing that you are with me always, even to the end of the age. In Jesus Name' Amen.

Feb. 25: Psalms 1,2

The book of Psalms, known as the Psalter, is made up of 150 psalms written by several authors over many centuries. The current form of the book shows that someone collected these particular psalms and put them into a certain order. It is apparent that the first two psalms were specifically placed at the beginning in order to give a certain summary to the whole collection. 

Psalm looks at the individual's way of life from the point of view of God's blessing while Psalm 2 looks at all of history from the point of view of God's sovereign plan.

Psalm 1 describes the one who is blessed of God as a man focused, not on the enticements of this sinful world, but on the word of God. The picture of a tree with deep roots, able to access water even in a desert place, represents a life whose roots have been driven deeply down into the truth of God. Such a life is truly prosperous in God's eyes.

But the benefit of living according to God's Word is not merely for this life. Rather, the one who is covered with the blessing of God will find that, in the end, life and not judgment will be his eternal reward, because he has been "known" by The Lord. In the end we find that the blessed man is the one on whom God has poured out his redeeming love.

Psalm 2 takes a "space shuttle" view of human history. This psalm, made up of 4 scenes, begins with a picture of the rebellious heart of mankind that seeks to sever any responsibility to Almighty God. Scene 2 shows that, in great contrast to the rebellious cacophony of sound on earth, heaven is calm. God's response to earthly rebellion is simple: I have installed my King!

Scene 3 describes the coronation of the King. He has been given all the nations as his inheritance, and he will do with them according to his will.

In the last scene the narrator returns to address the rebellious leaders of mankind. "Think again", he tells them. Instead of rebellion they would be better off to serve The Lord, to honor the king, and seek refuge in him. 

Prayer: Great God, thank you for the truth of your Word, and for the assurance that when I trust in you I will know your blessing. Help me to choose those things that honor you today, to serve you with fear and rejoice in your great love, regardless of what I face today. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Feb. 26: Psalms 3,4

These two psalms, from the pen of King David, are pleas for help and deliverance in time of great distress. 

Psalm 3 describes a situation where David's enemies (the forces of his own son Absalom who has raised a rebellion against him) are mocking his faith in God. They have surrounded him and believe God has forsaken him. Yet, David cries out to the God of his salvation, and finds him faithful.

As a result, he can lay down and sleep, waking up in the knowledge that, as God has preserved him through the night he will also preserve him from his enemies. 

We see David no longer afraid, but courageous and ready to take up the fight even as he acknowledges that the victory will come from God. This way of looking at the relationship between our diligence and God's sovereignty is found throughout the Bible (see: Phil 2:12,13).

Psalm 4 is an Evening Prayer. It is David's cry, not for salvation from enemies, but for strength to continue walking the paths of righteousness. In vs. 2 he challenges the unrighteous around him to recognize that God is near to the godly man. His advice: "be angry and do not sin." The idea here is anger aimed at personal sins, at one's own deficiencies. This is the righteous anger that arises when we recognize unrighteousness taking hold in our hearts. 

The result of such adamant trust in God and love for righteousness will be the ability to rest in peace throughout the night. The God in whom he trusts will insure his safety.

Prayer: O Lord, there is no other like you! I trust you because you have always shown yourself to be faithful. Father, I don’t know what today will hold, and I do know that too often my faith seems to fade away in the face of temptation and challenge. Today it is my desire to be faithful to you, as you always have been to me, through the power of Christ in me, Amen.

Feb. 27: Psalm 5,6

Psalm 5 is a Morning Prayer. David begins the day acknowledging that God is his King and God, and the one that is in charge of his life. The prayer is David's reminder to himself that God does not take pleasure in wickedness. Those who walk in pride, and are given to deceit will not dwell with God. 

But those who walk in humility, who speak truth and desire to walk in righteousness will find that God is their refuge. He will make their hearts rejoice, even as he covers them with protection and favor. 

Psalm 6 finds David in despair. The cause is not given but it seems that David's own transgressions have brought about his misery. He cries to God for grace rather than angry rebuke knowing that the covenant God has made with him cannot be broken. David is greatly troubled, and rather than flee from God, his situation drives back to the God of his salvation.

It must be seen that the life of those loved by God will not always be free of adversity. David is in anguish, and his night is filled with weeping and grief. He is broken, and he has come to the realization that only God can bring healing and deliverance. 

This is where God wants him, and where we must all dwell daily. Too often we live according to our own desires, fueled by our own strength, forgetting that it is only in God that we can truly live.

Prayer: Father, like David there are things in my life that distress me. Some of them come from my own pride and selfish desires. Lord, help me to prefer your ways today, to walk in your truth, and not give place to my pride, knowing that all you have for me is always my best option, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

Feb. 28: Psalm 7,8

In Psalm 7 we find David in trouble again. He is being pursued by those who want to destroy him. He considers that his distress may be God's judgment and searches his heart for sinful actions that may have brought on God's discipline. He asks The Lord to judge him and find that his integrity is intact. 

David finds refuge in the scrutiny of God knowing that God sees everything correctly. Though his enemies believe he is worthy of death, David trust God's view, and calls on God to be his defender. The evil of the wicked will come upon their own heads, but as for David, he will give thanks to The Lord and trust him to do what is best and right. 

Psalm 8 is a glorious tribute to the majesty of God, the Great King. The Psalm makes use of an inclusio, a literary device that acts as a set of bookends. In this case, the first half of vs. 1, and all of vs. 9 are the bookends and show that the author's intention is to extoll the grandeur of God.

Two elements of God's creation are singled out as reflections of his majesty. First, the heavens are a magnificent demonstration of God's power, creativity, and position as sovereign creator. In contrast, mankind seems rather small and insignificant. Yet, God has crowned mankind with glory and honor. And it is this honor bestowed that makes mankind a second great reflection of God's majesty.

The greatness of mankind stems not from our own abilities but from the position we hold. We are God's representatives, created as his image. God has granted to mankind the power to act in his stead in caring for creation and managing it for his glory. And in so doing, we are to demonstrate our dependence upon the one who alone is "majestic in all the earth!"

Prayer: O Lord, my Lord, how truly majestic you are! Every morning when a new day arrives I am blessed to be yours, and to have you as my guide and refuge. Lord, today will bring challenges as well as opportunities. In both you'll need to help me act and react in ways that reflect your glory, and witness to your grace in my life. Use me today, Lord, as you see fit, through Jesus Christ my Savior, Amen.

The Well: February 17-21

The Well: February 17 – 21

Feb. 17: Matthew 17, 18

As chapter 16 ended Jesus boldly declared that some of those who were with him would not die until they had seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. Chapter 17 opens with the event to which Jesus was referring, commonly known as The Transfiguration.

Having previously predicted his death and issued the call for his disciples to follow him no matter the cost, he now will draw back the veil of his humanity so that Peter, James and John may glimpse the radiance of his deity. This he accomplishes, once again, on the top of a mountain.

This event has great parallels to the episode from Moses’ life narrated in Exodus 33, 34. Moses once again ascends the mountain to meet with God. He asks God “show me your glory” (33:18). God agrees, but declares that Moses will not be able to stand the full display of such magnificence. As God protects Moses with his hand (33:19-23), he passes before him and speaks his glory (34:6, 7). In Matthew’s account, Jesus allows his glory to be recognized by the three disciples on top of a mountain. Later, both John Peter will remember the event, declaring “we beheld his glory, as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and “we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:17, 18). As God the Father had with Moses, Jesus now reveals his divine glory to those who will be charged to lead the Kingdom effort through the Gospel after his departure.

That the disciples are still in need of Jesus’ instruction is evident from the fact that the remaining disciples were unable to help the epileptic boy. Jesus’ work of preparation is not yet complete.

The story of the temple tax raises an interesting fact. Apparently only Jesus and Peter were of an age that demanded the payment of tax. This probably means that the rest of the disciples were considerably younger than we usually think, perhaps some were still in their teens.

Chapter 18 continues Matthew’s description of Jesus’ ministry of instruction. Particularly poignant is Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. It is apparent that the reality of our having been forgiven, and graced with new life from God, will be the presence of a willingness to forgive others. Our actions do not bring about God’s favor; rather, his favor is the reason our actions change from rebellion to obedience.

Prayer: Father, today let me not forget the glory that Jesus has, as God the Son. Forgive me Lord for sometimes thinking too highly of myself, and too lowly of my Savior. I want to live today reflecting my submission to him, and rejoicing in the gift of life he has given me, so that in all things your glory may be reflected in me, through Jesus my Lord, Amen.

Feb. 18: Matthew 19, 20

In chapter 19 Jesus faces two challenges. The first comes from those attempting to discredit his teaching while the second comes in the form of a religious man seeking to be affirmed by Jesus on the basis of his own righteousness.

The question of divorce was a dividing line in Jesus’ day. Various opinions had become commonplace, and lines had been drawn between factions in Judaism. Jesus’ opponents knew that, if they could get Jesus to commit to one view, he would of necessity alienate the other side. Either way they believed they could diminish his popularity.

But Jesus takes them back to the Old Testament to show that God’s plan for marriage was always permanence. Marriage was a covenant entered into before the very face of God. Yet, the sin of adultery could break the covenant. A broken covenant could be reaffirmed, as demonstrated multiple times by God toward faithless Israel. Yet, it could also be the case that ongoing immorality could so shatter the covenant that it became irreparable. Such was the case in Jeremiah 3:6-8 where God issued Israel a certificate of divorce and sent her away. Jesus declares that divorce, on the basis of a marriage covenant broken by ongoing adultery without repentance, is allowable in order to dissolve the legal ramifications of the covenant. Divorce does not separate spouses. It is sin that separates what God has joined together. Sin breaks the covenant, and divorce is then allowed, in cases of adultery, to allow for the legal ramifications to be dissolved. Jesus also states that, where divorce is allowed, remarriage is as well.

The second challenge comes from a young man who had great wealth. When asked regarding eternal life, Jesus responded in proper rabbinic manner, calling the man to obey the Law of God. Here we find the man’s pride is in find form. He insists that he has kept the law. At this point Jesus tests his true understanding of leaving all to follow God’s Messiah. The young man leaves disappointed, unwilling to part with his temporal agenda in order to trust fully in God.

Chapter 20 presents the parable of the vineyard. The truth here is that God can have mercy and grace on whomsoever he chooses. This would fly in the face of Israel’s pride. That all the workers receive the same payment is a tribute to the generosity of the master and demonstrates that standing before God is not dependent upon human work or piety, but completely dependent upon the unmerited grace of God.

For a third time Jesus predicts his death, but still the disciples are unable to grasp this truth. They have their own agenda, and it doesn’t include seeing their Messiah crucified. Their pride is illustrated by a mother’s request that her two sons be given positions of authority. Jesus responds that such positions are not his to give.

The chapter ends with a preview of the coming Triumphal Entry. A blind man, hearing that Jesus is passing, calls out “Lord, have mercy on us Son of David.” This recognition of Jesus’ place in the kingly line will be multiplied as the masses cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the Name of the Lord.”

Prayer: Father, today I am humbled to see in the disciples’ request the pride that I see in myself. Forgive me for wanting to be publicly recognized, for promoting myself, and feeling hurt when I am overlooked. Remind me, Lord, that you came not to be served, but to serve and to give yourself as a ransom for many, including me! Thank you for your love; help me to love you more, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Feb. 19: Matthew 21, 22

These two chapters bring us to the heart of Jesus' relationship with the people of Israel. His entrance into Jerusalem, accompanied by the shouts of an adoring crowd, is reminiscent of the welcome given to a great king, conquering hero, or visiting dignitary. The crowd was made up of some who traveled with him, and others who rushed out from the city to escort him in. But their acclaim arises from their hope that this miracle worker would raise an army, throw off the yoke of Roman dominance, and restore Israel as a nation back prominence in the world. They were looking for the promised Davidic King whom they say as a military leader.

Their praise is warranted but misinformed. Jesus has come to die, as he has predicted at least three times in the previous chapters. This great difference between the popular hope and the redemptive plan is described in a series of parables that point out the hypocrisy of the people. While they outwardly are extolling Jesus, praising him and identifying with him, their faith and trust in God is not authentic. Their religious fervor is not tied to the reality of Jesus’ deity, his message of repentance and faith, nor his determination to die for the sins of the world.

The lesson of the fig tree is Jesus’ way of opening his disciples’ eyes to the hypocrisy of the people. While the tree appeared to have fruit, in reality it did not. (Note: The parallel passage in Mark 11:12-14, 20-24 is helpful). The tree is an illustration of the people.

In three parables Jesus both describes and confronts the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day. The parable of the two sons declares that true faith is internal, demonstrated through obedience, and not merely external professions. He angers his audience by declaring that the tax collectors and prostitutes who had believed John’s message would enter the kingdom them.

The lengthy parable of the tenants speaks directly to the long history of Israel’s religious elite who had so often disregarded God’s authority over their lives. The vineyard was Israel, God’s people, that had been given over to the religious leaders for safe-keeping. The messengers were God’s prophets, sent by him to make sure the vineyard was cared for properly. Yet the leaders of Israel too often did not follow God’s, but rather went their own way. Finally, the master sent his son, but they killed him. The only recourse will be to take the vineyard away and give it to a “people producing fruits.” Jesus is boldly declaring that the kingdom will not be limited to Israel, but to all who, by faith, repent and believe the message of Christ.

The last parable describes the wedding feast. Again, Israel is depicted as the first invited guests. Yet, they have not taken advantage of their honored position. They have become complacent, and have turned down that gracious invitation of God. Once again the picture is given of God’s heart for the nations, as those from outside the city are now gathered into the King’s house.

Jesus’ pointed teaching brings about more opposition from the religious elite. They try to snare him in theological controversy, but in every case Jesus brilliantly exposes their hypocrisy and pushes his point forcefully. The reality of the resurrection stifles the Sadducees while his summation of the Law stymies the Pharisees. The chapter ends with Jesus on the offensive: “What do you think of the Christ (Messiah)? Whose son is he?” His opponents are speechless knowing that they have no good answer.

Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, I know that often my heart harbors hypocrisy. I want people to think more highly of me than I really am. Father, forgive me for thinking that my “externals” are all that I need to give to you. Lord, today may I love you from the heart, and may I value what you think of me above all else, through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Feb. 20: Matthew 23, 24

Jesus now moves from parable to proclamation in his denunciation of the religious leaders of Jerusalem. He pulls no punches. Seven times he pronounces “woe” to those who were supposed to be shepherding God’s people in righteousness and truth.

This chapter has a great connection with the message of Ezekiel 34 where God describes the “shepherds” of Israel as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are preying upon the sheep rather than protecting them. The result? God promises that, some day, he would himself come and shepherd his sheep through David, his son. It is clear that Jesus has come in fulfillment of that promise. Jesus, the good shepherd, is about to give his life for his sheep. Yet, he will be raised to life to care for them eternally.

The seven woes speak powerfully to the pride of the scribes and Pharisees, and the legalistic religion they have built. It is a set of chains with which they have bound the people. They have kept the people from seeing God.

The language here is quite bold. Jesus refers to his opponents as hypocrities, children of hell, and blind guides. They are whitewashed tombs full of dead bones, serpents, a brood of vipers, and those who have killed, crucified, and persecuted the righteous send to them. The passion of God’s Son for his people is palpable.

Here we see a side of Jesus Christ that is all too often pushed aside in our day. The modern image of Jesus as mild, soft, and loving to the point of weakness simply does not tell the whole story. Our Savior was always under control, always righteous, but not always safe. Here we see that our Lord is also the King of Kings, and one day the full force of his fury will be released upon those who refuse to enter into his love.

Jesus’ anger at the religious elite does not dampen for a minute his love for his people. His lament over Jerusalem ends the chapter with great poignancy.

As Jesus and the disciples leave Temple mount they make mention of the Temple’s grandeur. The Temple is their signature as a people for it marks the presence of God among them. Yet, Jesus takes occasion to state that it will not stand. The destruction of the Temple in 70ad at the hands of the Romans will mark the fulfillment of Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment on the current generation.

But even greater judgment awaits, as the chapter goes on to show. The disciples ask two questions: When? and What will be the signs? Jesus first gives a summary overview of the future (vs. 3-12) and then goes back and unpacks it more thoroughly (15-31). The immediate future is bleak. Rome will destroy Jerusalem as a time of tribulation begins for the nation. Such persecution will be characteristic, in different places and different times, until the Son returns with his angels to gather the elect from the earth.

As for signs, Jesus once again refers to the fig tree. They will recognize the sign when it comes, and they will live to see the beginning of them, most certainly understood to be the resurrection. But, beyond that, there will be no discernable signs! Rather than look for signs, Jesus calls his disciples – and us! – to live faithfully so that when he returns, he will find us doing his will.

Prayer: Gracious Father, reading the words of Jesus reminds me that we who are called by your name have work to do here on earth. Lord, help me to be faithful to the calling you have place on my life. May every part of my life be a channel for your grace and glory to be seen by those around me, for I am yours in Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

Feb. 21: Matthew 25, 26

The theme of faithful living, described forcefully by Jesus in the final section of chapter 24, is not illustrated through parables.

The story of the ten virgins speaks to readiness, while the parable of the talents speaks to diligence.

Weddings in those days were often celebrated over several days. Young women would accompany the couple as they went from home to home in celebration of their marriage. Those accompanying the bridegroom would be admitted to the party. But, given that the event could go for days, those responsible to light the way for the couple needed to plan ahead, to carry enough oil so that whenever they were called upon to lead the procession they would be ready with their lights lit. The parable speaks forcefully to those who want to be found ready when Jesus returns. It could be today! When he comes, be sure that he will find you ready to welcome him, and not embarrassed that you have wasted your time, and engaged in frivolous or sinful things.

The story of the talents speaks to the fact that, as we await Jesus’ return, we are not to be complacent but diligent in kingdom work. The word “talent” has sometimes made this story difficult to understand. In Jesus’ day a “talent” was a measurement of value, of money or gold or some other asset. In giving his servants talents, the master was entrusting them with some of his wealth. It is not correct to understand these talents as “abilities” even though that is what the English word means most often in our day.

The purpose of the parable is to show that those who are in the kingdom are to be about the work of the kingdom. Like the master in the story, Jesus has gone away, but will return. He has given all of his kingdom citizens some of his wealth, and we are to work it in ways that will increase the kingdom.

What “wealth” has he left us to use for his kingdom purposes? Certainly we have the Word of God to use wisely. The wealth left to us can also mean our church, our gifts and abilities, our money, our time, and our character. Everything we are and have can be used as a channel through which the kingdom grace and glory of God can flow to a needy world.

Chapter 26 portrays the events leading up to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Being anointed Jesus explains that it is preparation for his burial. And as he celebrates the Passover, he inaugurates the Lord’s Supper, and the New Covenant (see: Jeremiah 31:31-34). He leads his disciples out of the city, across the valley to Gethsemane where his arrest takes place. The plan of God to redeem mankind is coming to a climax. Jesus will be falsely accused, tried, and convicted by his enemies, and denied by his friends. What Satan means for evil, God means for the greatest good.

Prayer: Father, thank you for bringing be life in Jesus Christ. And thank you for allowing me to partner with you in brining the hope of life to others. May I be faithful to use what you have given me for you and not waste my life on myself, by your grace and for your glory, Amen.