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Matthew 21

October 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Matthew 21Donkey

This is a strange episode from Jesus’ life. It’s a little weird to think about Jesus riding a donkey down the street, while people throw their coats and palm branches on the ground in front of him. It’s like a spontaneous mini-parade.

But a donkey? Really?

But Jesus did this to fulfill a prophecy. Zechariah prophesized hundreds of years earlier that Judah’s Savior and King would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9.9-13). Sure, Jesus could have ridden in on a majestic white horse, towering over all the people. But that’s not Jesus’ style. He rides in on a humble donkey. He’s riding what any other person would ride. He’s on their level. It’s like Jesus is saying, “Yes, I am your King, but I’m also one of you.”

That is so amazingly awesome! This is a perfect example of how Jesus is 100% God yet also 100% human. Jesus is God Almighty, but while on Earth, he chose to limit himself and be completely human. Any supernatural miracle he performed was only because he asked God, and God allowed him to do so.

Again, Jesus could have ridden in on a Clydesdale, a Rolls Royce, or a space ship. He could have flown into Jerusalem like Superman. He could have had the angels carry him into the city on a kingly platform. He could have had fireworks and lasers. He deserved it. But he chose to limit himself. He chose the donkey. He chose to be like us.

He did this so we could relate to God. God is huge. He is beyond our comprehension. Saying that God is complex is an understatement. But in Jesus, we can better understand God. He doesn’t seem so far off. He becomes tangible (that means something we can see and touch).

God doesn’t want to be far off. He wants to be near to you. He wants a real relationship. He wants you to know him, because he is so in love with you. That is why Jesus came. That is why Jesus died. That is why Jesus rose from the grave.

God wants to be in your presence. Will you let him?

 

Prayer for Today

Dear God, thank you for coming to Earth as Jesus. I don’t want you to be far off. I want to be in your presence every day. Your love is amazing. I can’t understand how you could love me so much, but I thank you that you do. I love you. Thank you, Jesus for choosing to become like me. Thank you for your life, your death, and your resurrection. Amen.

 

“Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2.5a-11

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Matthew 20

October 5, 2009 Leave a comment

choke holdMatthew 20

Have you ever been in need? Have you ever required mercy? Maybe you’ve wrestled with your dad or a sibling, and they put you in a hold you couldn’t get out of. They wouldn’t let you out till you cried “uncle” or “mercy.”

That’s not what I’m talking about, however. As Americans, most of us don’t really know what it is to be in need. Even if our families struggle financially, most of us are still wealthy when compared to the rest of the world. Chances are you didn’t worry whether you would eat today. You have probably never feared being thrown in prison and tortured. Most of us have never come within inches of death.

We don’t understand mercy.

Yet all of us are in need of it. All of us have sinned (Romans 3.23), and therefore, we all deserve eternal death (Romans 6.23). We are all in need of Jesus’ mercy to save us.

The two blind men knew what it was to be in need. Since they couldn’t see, they couldn’t work. Since they couldn’t work, they couldn’t make money to buy food, clothes, shelter, etc. Anyone could easily take advantage of them. They were vulnerable. They lived in fear.

They cried out to Jesus for mercy. Jesus had compassion on them and gave them their sight.

Perhaps, we are the ones who are actually blind. We don’t see that we are in need of mercy. We don’t see that we are lost without Jesus. Until we do, can we really experience Christ’s mercy?

Realize that you are in need. You will experience eternal death without Jesus. But he died so you could live. If you cry out to him and are united with him (Romans 6.3-7), he will rescue you.

 

Prayer for Today

Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me. Amen.

 

“Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy.” Psalm 86.6

Matthew 19

October 5, 2009 Leave a comment

Matthew 19

He seemed to have it all. He was successful and quite wealthy. He obeyed God’s commandments almost perfectly. He was a model citizen.

Yet, he realized something was missing.

He came to Jesus, seeking that missing puzzle piece. “What do I still lack?” he asked Jesus. With everything the rich young man had, none of it could earn him joy. Jesus knew the answer. Jesus knew what the man needed.

Jesus tells him that if he wants to be perfect (the Greek really means “complete”), then he needs to sell his possessions and give to the poor.” Doing so will give him something that is difficult to find: treasure in heaven.

The man’s life lacked meaning. He had everything he ever wanted, but still wasn’t joyful. He knew his wealth was only temporary and that he wouldn’t be able to take it with him when he died.

But a life devoted to helping others gives your life meaning and purpose. It fills your life with joy. It gives you something better than anything money could ever buy.

Below, you can find ways that you can help others, bringing joy to their lives, as well as your own.

 

Prayer for Today

Dear God, I want my life to be complete. I want to have a life of meaning and purpose. I want to have true joy. I want to have treasure in heaven. Open my eyes so that I can see ways to help others. Help me to discover some way to use what I have to help those who are in need. Father, please bless those who are in need. Amen.

 

“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 14.31

 

http://www.wvi.org World Vision helps children in poverty around the world and fights against AIDS. There are many ways to help. You can sponsor a child for $35 a month, or give one-time gifts for as little as $10. You can even buy things that families in poverty need, such as a goat or chicken. Just click here

http://www.compassion.com You can sponsor a child in need for only $38 a month.

http://www.freerice.com You can give rice to people in need just by playing a game. And it doesn’t even cost you anything!

http://www.freepoverty.com You can help people get access to clean water sources by playing a game online. And this doesn’t cost you anything either!

http://www.mojuproject.com Feed an orphan in Africa for an entire month by purchasing a T-shirt.

http://www.tomsshoes.com For every pair of shoes you buy, TOMS will donate a pair to a child in need.

Matthew 18

October 5, 2009 Leave a comment

Matthew 18

A man is forgiven an enormous debt, one he could never hope to repay. Immediately after, he grabs a man who owes him a small amount of money. The man is unable to repay the debt at the moment and asks for more time. But the other man has him arrested.

We easily recognize that this wrong. A man is forgiven a huge debt but is unwilling to forgive someone else a small debt? What a jerk. No, this guy is beyond just a simple jerk. He’s scum. He’s dirt. He’s heartless.

Yet, are we any different?

The price to pay for our sin is death. We deserve to die because of our sins against God. But he forgave it by taking the punishment for us. Jesus died a terrible death on the cross so that we could live. There is no way we could ever repay that debt.

But how many times do we fail to forgive people? Someone treats us badly, and we hold a grudge, talk bad about them, or do something to teach them a lesson. What they have done to us pales in comparison to what we have done against God.

We are the unmerciful servant in that story. How can we expect God to forgive us of everything we have done to hurt him, when we can’t forgive others for the few things they have done against us? It is not easy, but we need to forgive like Christ. Even when he was being crucified, he asked God to forgive the ones who put him there (Luke 23.24). Seek that same attitude of forgiveness.

Who do you need to forgive?

 

Prayer for Today

Father, you have forgiven me so much, and I thank you. Thank you for allowing Jesus to die in my place. Help me to forgive others like you forgive me. I need your help to forgive. Amen.

 

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11.25

Matthew 17

October 5, 2009 Leave a comment

Matthew 17

Jesus is gradually trying to reveal to his disciples who he is and what his plan is. Six days earlier, Jesus told his disciples that he would be put to death but that he would be raised to life. Peter showed that disciples didn’t get it.

So now he takes his closest disciples—Peter, James, and John—with him up a high mountain. On this mountain, Jesus is transfigured (transformed, changed). The Greek word literally means “metamorphosis.” Jesus actually begins to glow, and there beside him, two very important figures in Israelite history appear.

Moses was the man God used to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and give Israel his law. Moses prophesized that God would raise up another prophet like himself (Deuteronomy 18.15). Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in Israel. God told his people that he would send Elijah back to them (Malachi 4.5).

Jesus is getting an endorsement from two of the most influential people in Jewish history. They are there to say, “This is the guy we told you about. He’s the One you’ve been waiting for.” Then God says to Peter, James, and John, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Sound familiar? This is exactly what God said when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (Matthew 3.17). God is confirming, along with Moses and Elijah, that Jesus is God’s Son, and that he has been chosen by God to do something very special.

But God adds something at the end: “Listen to him.” Listen to what Jesus says. It’s important. It’s life-changing. It’s earth-shattering. Listen to him!

Are you listening? It’s not enough to just “hear” or “read” what Jesus said and did. Listening means you DO what he says. To listen to Jesus means that his word changes your life.

I hope that you have begun to see who Jesus really is. I pray that you understand that he is God’s Son, and that he came to change your life forever. Allow his teachings to impact your life. Put them into practice. Seek to become like Jesus. Listen to him.

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, you are God. You are God’s special Son. You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Chosen One. You are the Savior of the world. You are the King of the Universe. I will listen to you. I want to know more of your teachings. I want to learn your ways. I crave your knowledge and wisdom. I want to be just like you in everything.  I will listen to you. Amen.

 

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1.22

 

Listen to this song, “Listen to Him” by Acappella. This is a powerful song about the transfiguration. Close your eyes and imagine yourself on the mountain along with them.

Matthew 16

October 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Matthew 16

In Matthew 16.13, Jesus takes his disciples to Caesarea Philippi, a town near the northern-most part of the land of Israel. Caesarea Philippi was home to a large cave which had a natural spring running out of the mouth of the cave. Local legend said that this cave was the entrance to the underworld, and a large temple was built there to worship Pagan gods.

The cave and temple were located at the base of a very large cliff. All kinds of evil acts occurred here. The worship consisted of prostitution and other kinds of sexual immorality. An unlikely place for a Jewish rabbi to bring his students.

The name of this terrible place was “The Gates of Hades.” Hades was the place of the dead in Greek mythology. They believed the gods went there for the winter. Worshippers would attempt to entice the gods to return in the spring with their sexual perversion.

All this helps us to understand Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16.18. Jesus asked his disciples who they believed he was. Peter pipes up “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” (verse 16). Peter realized that the idols that were carved into the rock were not alive; only the One True God—Jesus’ Father—was alive.

Jesus then replies to Peter in verse 18 by saying “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Jesus appears to be saying that he is going to build his church right here on this rock, the Gates of Hades. In other words, he will replace the evil of this temple with the righteousness of his church. This movement Jesus has started is going to change the world, and even the intense immorality of Caesarea Philippi won’t be able to slow it down.

The question to ask yourself is “Have I allowed Christ to build on my life?” Do you agree with Peter’s statement that Jesus “is the Christ, the Son of the Living God”? Have you allowed Christ to rid your life of immorality and anything that isn’t true? Or are you like the Gates of Hades: an entrance to death and a monument for immorality?

Examine yourself. Let Jesus take control and build upon your life.

 

Prayer for Today

Jesus, you are the Christ. You are the Son of the Living God. Remove from me anything that distracts me from you. Take away the sin in my life. I want you to build upon my life so that you can be glorified. Help me to take your glory everywhere I go, so that others may be freed from death. Amen.

 

“Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours.” Psalm 86.8

 

Check out this home video of the Gates of Hades in Caesarea Philippi:

 

*A special thanks to Ray Vander Laan, whose incredible research and teaching is the background for today’s devotional. You can find out more about his teaching at http://www.followtherabbi.com. The source for today’s devotional can be found on the Faith Lessons video Volume Five: The Early Church.

Matthew 15

September 29, 2009 1 comment

superkidMatthew 15

Do you remember dressing up for Halloween as a kid? Did you ever feel like putting on that costume turned you into that superhero or princess? Maybe you put on that Superman costume, and you really thought you could fly. Or you dress up like Cinderella or Ariel, and you automatically feel like you get to run the show now.

I heard that they actually had to put a warning label on Superman costumes which says that wearing the costume does not give you the ability to fly. I’m guessing some little boy got a Superman costume and then climbed on top of his house. Empowered by this newfound sense of power, he leapt off the roof. It’s kind of funny to think about this kid hurling himself off the roof, until you think about his painful meeting with the ground below.

We know better though. We are old enough to realize that putting on a Superman costume does not make us Superman. Superman’s powers came from something inside, not spandex pajamas and a cape.

But for some reason we struggle with this as Christians. Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his day for their lack of understanding on this idea. They thought that looking good on the outside—by following certain religious rituals—made them alright with God.

We can be guilty of this as well. We may think that being a Christian means going to church, wearing a cross necklace, not cussing, and putting a Jesus fish on our car. But going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than wearing red underwear over blue tights enables you to fly.

Jesus told his followers that they will know that they are truly his follower by the love that flows out of them (John 13.35). We can go to church every week (which we should), but if we don’t love the people around us, we aren’t his followers. We can wear a Christian T-shirt, but if we don’t show compassion by helping people in need, we aren’t being Christ-like. We can never say a cuss word, but if we’re rude to others, are we clean? Or would Jesus say we are unclean?

When we truly allow Christ to take over our lives, we don’t just change a few things like going to church and not having sex before marriage. We allow Jesus to change everything. Then we will see love, compassion, mercy, and justice flowing out of us.

 

Prayer for Today

Dear God, I don’t want to be fake. I don’t want to just look like I am a Christian. I want to be like Christ. I want you to change me completely, so that I am clean on the inside. I don’t want my life to be just about rituals, but I want your goodness to flow out of my mouth and out of my life. I no longer want to go through the motions and just worship you with my lips. I want to completely give you my heart and worship you with my life. I ask this through the power of your Son, Jesus. Amen.

 

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Isaiah 29.13