Matthew 26:1-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13 — Room for the master

Jesus’ final public appearances (of his own volition, anyway) are now over.  And he now knows that the time of his arrest and crucifixion is close at hand.  But before that happens, Jesus prepares to have one last meal with his disciples.

It’s kind of an unusual account that’s given concerning the preparations for the Passover meal.  Did Jesus supernaturally know that a man would be carrying a jar of water around (something only women generally did), or had he worked out an arrangement and a special signal ahead of time with the parents of John Mark (the author of the book of Mark)?

Whatever the case, when the disciples entered the house, they found the upper room furnished and ready for them.

It’s very interesting to me that at the time of Jesus’ birth, there was no room for him.  But now, just before his death, there was a room already prepared and ready for him.

How about your heart?  Is it always prepared and ready for whatever Jesus wants to do in it?

Or is it so cluttered with sin or your own desires that it’s impossible for him to make use of it?

Lord, may there always be room in my heart for you.  More, may my heart be cleared out from any clutter that would prevent you from doing what you want to accomplish in me and through me.  May my life always be used for your glory.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11; John 12:1-11 — True love, false love

Here we see a stark contrast in love.  One person’s love came from the heart.  The other’s came only for what profited him.

Jesus was in Bethany having dinner at the house of a man named Simon.  Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were all there, as were Jesus’ disciples.  And at the meal, Mary took some expensive perfume, and poured it on Jesus’ feet and on his head.

Judas’ reaction was immediate.

Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.  (John 12:5)

And apparently, the other disciples chimed in with Judas.

John tells us, however, that Judas’ love and concern for the poor was not genuine.  Instead,

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.  (John 12:6)

But of Mary, Jesus said,

Leave her alone…Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.  But you will not always have me.  She did what she could.  She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  (Mark 14:6-9)

Judas’ reaction?  He went to the chief priests and betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

We will always wonder why Judas decided to do this, but I don’t think it was simply because Jesus rebuked him in front of the disciples.  I think it went much deeper than that.  His love for Jesus (and for others) apparently didn’t go much further than what it benefited him.  As treasurer among the disciples, he was happy to give to the poor as long as he could help himself to some of the money himself.  And as a disciple, he was happy to follow Jesus as long as it seemed Jesus would become king.

But time and again, Jesus talked not about ruling as Messiah, but of his death.  Perhaps frustrated and fed up with this, Judas thought, “Fine, if you want to die, die.”  And he went to betray him.

Mary’s love, on the other hand,  came from her heart.  And unlike Judas, who followed Jesus for what he could get, she loved Jesus enough to give him what was precious to her.  I love what John said about what happened when she opened the bottle of perfume.  He said,

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  (John 12:3)

And that’s what our love for Jesus and others should be like.  It should permeate the world around us.  It should be so evident, that no one can miss it.  Some people, like Judas, will criticize us for it.  But to Jesus, it’s a sweet smelling aroma.

How about you?  Is your love selfish, only interested in what you can gain?  Or is it a sweet smelling aroma to Jesus and the world around you?


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Matthew 25:31-46 — How we treat others

Jesus finishes his dialogue on the end times with this last story.  And it talks about the final judgment following the tribulation.  At that time, God will judge the nations, separating the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Considering the context, it seems God will specifically judge the nations for how they treat his people Israel during the tribulation.  Some, who out of their love for God, work to help the Jews in their time of need will be blessed and welcomed into the kingdom.  But those who participate in their persecution, or who simply turn a blind eye to them will be condemned.

But there’s a broader application that we can get from this.  For as much as people will be judged for how they treat the Jews during that time, we will be judged for how we treat others here and now.

Jesus said,

The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  (34-36)

And when these people asked when they did such a thing for him, the King will reply,

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.  (40)

But to those who did not help others in their time of need, he will say,

I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.  (45)

When we see others in need, how do we react?  Do we reach out to them in the love of God?  If we do, we do so to Christ.

But Jesus says that if we instead turn a blind eye to them, we are turning a blind eye to Christ and we will be held accountable for it.

John wrote,

This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  (I John 3:16-18)

Jesus has given us so much.  He laid down his own life to give us life.  How then can we not do the same for others?

Let us turn a blind eye to Jesus no longer, but reach out and touch the lives of those he loved enough to die for.

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Matthew 25:14-30 — Being faithful

The second parable in this chapter goes to the point that Jesus brought up earlier.  That we need to be faithful, doing the things that God has called us to do until he returns.

In this story, Jesus talks about a man who gave money to three different servants to invest.  To one, he gave five talents (a talent was a measure of weight for precious metals, usually 58-80 pounds) of silver, to another 2 talents, and to the last servant he gave one.  And it says that he gave to them, each according to their ability.

In the same way, God has given us different talents (not money, but abilities) and resources.  He does not give them equally to us, but rather according to what we can handle.

And like the story, God requires us to use and invest what he has given us.  If we are faithful, doing what he’s asked us to do until he returns, then like the master in the story, he will tell us,

Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!  (21)

In the story, the master said this to two of his servants.  But there was a third servant, who instead of investing what his master had entrusted to him, buried it in the ground.  And when his master returned, he had nothing to show for what he had been entrusted.

Why?  Probably more than anything because he did not honor his master.  He saw his master as unfair, as a man who merely leached off the work of others.  And he feared that his master would be unfair in judging him were he to try to invest, but instead lose everything.

Many people look at God the same way.  They don’t truly honor him.  They see him as unfair.  They see him as too harsh.  They throw all kinds of criticisms his way.  And they use these criticisms as an excuse to live for themselves, instead of investing what God gave them and living for him.

This will especially happen in the last days when everything is falling apart.  Earthquakes, famines, wars, and plagues.  And people, even more than they do now, will throw criticisms God’s way, rather than turning from their sin and serving him.

But when Jesus comes back, they’ll find out that all their criticisms and excuses are empty.  They’ll realize that God is completely fair and just, and that it was they who were wrong.  It was they who were selfish, wicked, and lazy.  And they will be judged for that.

Part of faith is believing that God is good.  That though there is evil in this world, it is not God who is evil.  That though there is injustice in the world, it is not God who is unjust.  Rather it is we who have made a mess of things.  But as long as we fail to honor God and criticize him for the mess we made, we will make all kinds of excuses for why we need not be faithful with all he has given us.

How about you?  How do you see God?  Do you honor him enough to honor him with your life?  Do you honor him enough to be faithful and use what he’s given you to make a difference in this world as he has called you to?

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Matthew 25:1-13 — Being ready

In this chapter, we see two parables on what Jesus was just talking about, watching for his return and also doing the things he’s asked us to do until he comes.

In this first parable, I think it’s easy to try to over-interpret each facet of the parable, and I think we can get into trouble trying to do so.

The main point, again, is that we are to watch and be ready for when Jesus comes back, because he will come back when we don’t expect it.

That’s what happened with these bridesmaids.  The bridegroom had gone to the bride’s house and was due to return to his home for the wedding banquet, and so everyone was waiting for his return.  But for some reason, it took more time than they expected, and so when the bridegroom finally came, they were fast asleep.  Awakened from their slumber, the bridesmaids quickly realized that their lamps were going out, and needed more oil.  Five of the them were ready for such a situation, and quickly refilled their lamps.  The other five, however, were not ready and as a result, had to go out and buy more oil and by the time they came back, the doors were shut and they could not enter.

The point?  Some thought they were ready and were not, while others were truly ready for the bridesgroom’s return.  Those who were ready were able to join the banquet, while the rest were shut out.

Many Jews will be like this when Jesus finally returns.  They have been yearning for the Messiah for so long.  And some will be ready; they will have already acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, been filled with his Spirit, and be ready to enter the kingdom when Jesus comes.  But others, though they claim to be waiting for the Messiah, are not ready.  And they will find that out when Jesus returns.  That the Messiah they’d been waiting for had been Jesus all along.  But when they find out, it will be too late, and they will be locked out of his kingdom.

But the same can be said of the rest of us.  Many people claim to be Christians, but have never truly received him as Lord and Savior.  Rather, they merely have the “form of godliness but deny its power.” (II Timothy 3:5)  They claim to follow Christ, but in their hearts, merely live for themselves.  And when Jesus returns, they’ll realize that they are not ready for his return, and will find themselves locked out of his kingdom.

How about you?  Are you ready for when Jesus returns?  There is only one way.  The apostle Paul wrote,

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  (Romans 10:9)

Are you ready for our Lord’s return?

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Matthew 24:36-51; Mark 13:32-37; Luke 21:34-36 — Being ready whenever

There are a lot of people concerned about when Jesus will return.  And over the years, many people have predicted when he will come back.  I remember back in my high school days, a book came out called, “88 reasons why the rapture will happen in 1988.”

Needless to say, it never happened.  Not that it stopped the author from making more futile predictions.

For some reason, such people seem to ignore the words of Jesus who said,

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  (Mark 13:32)

God has his plans, and he hasn’t chosen to reveal to us when Jesus will return.  What he has given us is signs to look for, which we’ve already talked about.  And he’s given us an admonition that too few Christians follow today.  Watch, and be ready.

Jesus  said,

Be on guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come.  It’s like a man going away:  He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.  Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back — whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’  (Mark 13:33-37)

I know I mentioned this yesterday, but considering that Jesus repeats the same admonition 4 times in the same passage, I figure it can’t hurt to repeat it again.

A lot of Christians argue about when Jesus will rapture the church.  Will it be before the great tribulation?  Will it be in the middle?  Will it be after?  I’m not saying these things aren’t important.  What I am saying is that it’s not so important when Jesus is coming, but to be ready whenever he comes.  And if you are ready whenever he comes, you’ll never be caught by surprise.

That is the whole point of what Jesus is saying here.  So before you start arguing about pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib, or premillenial, postmillenial, or amillenial, ask yourself one question.  If Jesus were to come today, am I ready?  Am I doing the things that he has asked me to do?  If he were come today, what would he say to me?

And if you have that question settled, everything else will work itself out.

So…are you ready?

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Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-38 — Until our Lord returns

The Lord talks a lot about the events that will occur before he returns.  And the thing that you get from all he says is that things will get worse before he returns.  A lot worse.  There will be wars, earthquakes, and famines.  And because of all these troubles, false prophets will arise, trying to bring hope, but instead deceiving many.  And if that weren’t bad enough, Antichrist will appear.

The result?  Persecution.   There will be a persecution of the Jews in particular, but also of any who follow Christ, leading to a great falling away from the faith.  You won’t see what you see today with many people claiming to be Christians, all the while living as they please.

And because of all the wickedness surrounding them, the love of most will grow cold.  Trust, I believe will be in short supply as well, as people will be turning on each other, especially on those who are following God.  And then celestial phenomena will start to occur that will further shake people’s hearts.  But just when things reach their worst, Jesus will appear and bring an end to these things, and his kingdom will finally come.

Having said all this, Jesus gives us warning and encouragement.

The first warning he gives is to be careful of false Christs.  When Christ comes, he’ll come from the sky and the whole world will see his coming.  So don’t waste your time running after rumors.  And though people may come with great signs and wonders, if they claim to be Christ, don’t believe them.  For that is exactly how the Antichrist will come, performing signs and wonders, deceiving many.  (2nd Thessalonians 2:3-9)

He then warns us and encourages not to lose hope through this time of trouble, but to be ever watchful doing what he has called us to do.  He says first,

When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.  (Luke 21:28)

In other words, don’t fret when these things happen.  Don’t get discouraged.  Don’t lose hope.  Because all these things mean that Jesus is truly coming soon.

But then he says,

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.  (Luke 21:34)

It will be so easy in those days to fall into discouragement and depression from all the evil you see around you.  And so Jesus says to be careful not to let that happen to you.

He also warns us not to become jaded and cynical, and to start thinking that Jesus will never return because of all the evil we see.  Instead, we are to continue waiting in hope.  Waiting in terms of watching for his return.  But also waiting in terms of serving him, and doing the things he has asked of you.  And if we do, we’ll be rewarded.  If we don’t, we will be punished.  (Matthew 24:46-51)

I know that there are a lot of people thinking, “Well, this isn’t really for me.  I’ll be raptured by then.”

I certainly hope you’re right.  But if the day comes that you see the “abomination that makes desolate” standing in the temple (a mirroring of what Antiochus did when he sacrificed a pig on the altar of God and set up an idol in the temple), then know that these words are not only for the Jews.  They are not only for those who become Christians at that time.  They are for you.

And no matter what happens, no matter what trials we may go through, let us keep watching for our Lord, serving him faithfully until he returns.

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Matthew 24:1-35; Mark 13:1-31; Luke 21:5-33 — A sign of things to come

I mentioned in my last blog that this is one of the more difficult passages in scripture, and part of the difficulty comes in the harmonizing of it.  Jesus had just told the disciples that the temple was going to be destroyed, and troubled by this revelation, the disciples asked when this would happen and what would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age.

I’m trying to think of this from their perspective.  At this point, it still had not sunk in that Jesus had to die and be raised to life.  It had never even crossed their minds that Jesus would ascend to heaven and depart from them.  So when they asked about his coming, they weren’t asking when he would come back from heaven.  They were probably asking when he would set up his kingdom.

They had heard all the prophesies of the “Day of the Lord” from the Old Testament.  A day of judgment for the nations, and a time when Israel would be restored.  But now Jesus was saying that this temple would be destroyed.  The Day of the Lord could not certainly happen before that.  And yet, this very week, they had heard the people in Jerusalem shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!”

As a result, they were understandably confused.  What’s difficult about interpreting these passages is trying to harmonize them.  In particular, Luke, at a certain point, uses certain language to describe the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and Matthew and Mark seem to use that very same language to describe something that is yet to come even in our day.

My guess is that as time went on, after Jesus had left and the Holy Spirit had come upon them, the disciples started to understand that Jesus’ words had relevance not only for what was to happen in the near future at the destruction of the temple, but what was to happen when Jesus returns again.

At any rate, in Luke’s account, Jesus talks about how in the future, there would be false Christs, wars, and disasters.  But he warned the disciples that before these things happened, they would be persecuted and even be put to death.  All this happened in the book of Acts.  We also see when they were put on trial, the Holy Spirit gave them the words to speak in such a way that their opponents couldn’t answer them, just as Jesus promised.

He then warned that when they saw armies surrounding Jerusalem, to get out of there because Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people taken captive.  And he talked about how terrible it would be for those women who would be pregnant or nursing at that time.  All this happened in AD 70, and most if not all the Christians at that time took Jesus’ warning and were not there when Jerusalem was destroyed, while many other Jews stayed in Jerusalem thinking it was their only hope for safety.

But Matthew and Mark seem to use the same, or at least similar language for what will happen in the future.  That there will be an abomination that causes desolation standing in the temple.  The book of Daniel refers to this event, and it was originally fulfilled when Antiochus Epiphanes set up an idol of Zeus in the temple, and then sacrificed a pig on the altar of God.  But there was no such event in Jerusalem when it fell in AD 70.  So it must be referring to something that happens in the future.

Here also, Jesus is seen as saying to flee Jerusalem and how horrible it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers.  But he goes on to say,

Those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now–and never to be equaled again.  (Mark 13:19)

It’s hard to say Jesus was talking about Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70, when the future tribulation will be much worse.

So what am I saying?  All the things that happened in Jerusalem in AD 70 were a sign for what will happen in the future.  And indeed for what’s happening even now.  For even now, we see wars and rumors of wars.  We see famines, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.  We see false Christs popping up all over the place.  We see persecution.

And all this will not end until Jesus comes again.  And when he comes, all will know it because he will appear in the sky for all to see, and at that time he will call his elect to him.

I know that many people think that Jesus will rapture all Christians before Antichrist even comes.  I certainly hope so.  I’m willing to be convinced.  But I wouldn’t count on it.

Whatever you believe, here’s the point I want you to remember:  Jesus’ words concerning Jerusalem came true, exactly as he had said.  We see his words coming true even today.  And so when he says he will come again, we can know it’s true.  Because he said so.  Jesus said,

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.  (Luke 21:33)

So no matter what trouble we may suffer through, let us wait in hope, and be ready whenever he does come.

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Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6 — When our temple becomes corrupt

We now come to one of the more difficult passages in scripture.  I want to say straight off that if you’re hoping to get all the answers for what all this means, I don’t have them.  There are other people much more qualified to espouse their views on the matter of whether pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, are correct and all that goes with it.

More than anything, as I have through my blogs, I want to stay with what’s clear and what things mean practically for us (although I’m sure all the pundits for the different positions will argue that the scriptures are clear about their positions).

Today, though, I want to look at what started this whole discourse.  After this final day of arguing with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus’ disciples said concerning the temple,

Look, Teacher!  What massive stones!  What magnificent buildings!  (Mark 13:1)

And indeed from the outside, the temple was beautiful indeed.  But Jesus quickly doused their enthusiasm by saying,

Do you see all these great buildings?  Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.  (Mark 13:2)

That was exactly what happened.  When the temple was attacked in A.D. 70, a fire started, and the gold from the roof melted into the cracks of the walls of the temple.  As a result, the commander of the attack ordered that the temple be dismantled stone by stone so as to retrieve all of the gold.

Why did this happen?  We saw the answer earlier.  While the temple looked beautiful on the outside, and though there were certainly some good things that happened on the inside, nevertheless, the corruption was so great that it could not stand.  There was greed (as seen in the cleansing of the temple), and even worse, a rejection of the very God they claimed to serve.  They couldn’t even recognize him when he stood right there among them.  Rather, they were determined to kill him.

All of us as Christians are God’s temples.   But how often have we seen high-profile Christians, particularly in ministry, fall because of corruption.  And not just fall, but fall utterly, with “not one stone left on another.”

But before we start judging others, we need to look at our own temples.  What is there?  Is there any hint of corruption?  Greed?  Hypocrisy?  Jealousy?  Pride?  These things in particular were in the temple of Jerusalem.  Are they in your temple?

What about other things that can corrupt a temple?  Lust?  Bitterness?  Unforgiveness?

And are there things that should be in your temple, but aren’t?  Things like love and mercy?

Our temples might look good to those who see us from the outside.  We might seem to be shining examples of what a Christian should be.  But if our temples are corrupt, eventually, they will utterly collapse and be exposed for what they really are.

What’s in your temple?

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Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4 — What God is looking for

After the blistering criticism Jesus gave the Pharisees, he settled back, and quietly started to watch the people walking past the place where offerings were put.

A number of rich people walked past, and with great ceremony dumped in large amounts of money.  And perhaps as they did, Jesus’ face twisted in consternation.  Person after person walked by, giving their offerings, but somehow, I imagine Jesus’ face only grew darker.

And then a poor widow walked by.  Unlike many of those who had dropped in their offerings, this woman only dropped in two coins.  There was no pride in it.  No seeking of attention.  I imagine there was only a heart filled with love and gratefulness toward God.

At this, Jesus’ face lit up.  And he quickly pointed her out to the disciples, telling them,

I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  (43)

The disciples must have thought Jesus was out of his mind.  And they probably said, “Jesus, what are you talking about?  You can barely buy anything with what that woman gave!”

But Jesus replied,

They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.  (44)

I don’t think it’s coincidence that Jesus pointed this woman out after all he had said about the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  He had just scathed them for all their hypocrisy, because all of their righteousness was merely for show.

And so when he finally found the kind of person that God was really looking for, he said to his disciples, “This is what I’m talking about.  This is the kind of person God is looking for.”

What kind of person was that?  A person whose heart truly belonged to God.

A heart that didn’t worry about what others thought about her.  A heart that didn’t cling to what was hers.  But a heart that said, “Here I am.  Here’s what I have.  I give it to you.”

How about you?  Is that the kind of heart you have?  Can Jesus point to you and say, “Here is a person whose heart is mine?”

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Matthew 23:29-38 — When we reject those sent to us

Nobody likes to be rebuked.  To be told you’re wrong.  But how do you respond when you are?

The Pharisees followed the long line of their ancestors throughout Israel’s history.  Instead of listening and repenting when rebuked, they turned on those sent to them.  They turned on Jesus, murdering him, and they turned on his disciples, all the while claiming that they would never have murdered the prophets that their ancestors murdered long before.

And so Jesus said,

You snakes!  You brood of vipers!  How will you escape being condemned to hell?  Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers.  Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.  And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.  (33-36)

Jesus then wept, saying,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’  (37-39)

And that’s what happened.  Within a generation of the people that murdered Christ, Israel fell, their beloved temple demolished until this very day.

What happens we reject those God sends to us to rebuke us?  Ultimately, our lives will fall apart.  And we will be judged.

God takes no pleasure in this.  He weeps over it.  But there can be no life, there can be peace until we acknowledge him as Lord over all in our lives.

Solomon wrote,

Faithful are the wounds of a friend.  Proverbs 27:6 (NASB)

The truth can hurt.  It can be painful to hear.  But if we take them to heart, they can bring healing.

What do you do when you are rebuked?

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Matthew 23:25-28 — Cleaning out the inside

Jesus continues his scathing of the Pharisees and teachers of the law by saying,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  (25-28)

Scathing indeed.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law were held up as so righteous by the people.  But Jesus exposes every filthy thing in their hearts, their greed, their self-indulgence, and their utter hypocrisy.  He called them whitewashed tombs which look so beautiful on the outside, but are filled with rotting bones on the inside.

How about you?  What would Jesus say about you if he saw you?  Would he call you a whitewashed tomb?  A cup that is clean on the outside and filthy on the inside?

It is so easy to put up a front.  In fact the word “hypocrite” originally came from the word for “actor.”  But God looks beyond your exterior to your heart.  And when he does, what does he see?

For that matter, what do you see?  Can you even see the areas in your heart that are ugly in the sight of God?  Or are you so blind that while you can see everyone else’s sin, you can’t even see your own?

I suppose the real test is this:  Do you feel compassion for those “sinners” around you because you know just how much mercy you yourself have received from God, and continue to receive day by day?  Or do you just feel utter contempt for them, thinking, “I would never do something like that!”

What is in your heart?  What needs to be cleaned out from your cup?

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Matthew 23:23-24 — Remembering what’s important

It’s really sad the reputation that a lot of Christians have in the world, particularly in the States.

Some of it is the natural response of the world to people who love the Lord.  Jesus did say that there would be people who hate us because of him.

But I wonder sometimes how often Christians get a bad reputation, not because they are following Jesus, but because they’ve forgotten what’s important.

Many of these Christians go to church every Sunday, perhaps go to a Bible study during the week as well, they read their Bibles and pray daily, and they are very loud in their championing of Christian values.  There was a group very similar to that in Jesus’ time:  The Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Yet Jesus said of them,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.  (23-24)

Jesus adds another thing they neglected in Luke 11:42, “the love of God.”

Jesus said in another passage that the world would know that we are his disciples by the love that we have for one another.  (John 13:35)

I suppose the question I have, not just for you but for me, is this:  “Is my life marked by the love and mercy of God?  When people look at me, do they see these things flowing from me?  Do they know that I truly do care for them?  Do they see the compassion I have for them?  Or do they merely see a person who constantly condemns them and their lifestyle?

“When people see me at work, do they see a person of integrity, a person who does what is right even when it hurts me?  Do they see a person who is faithful at what he does, or someone who slacks off whenever he can?”

If people don’t see these things in our lives, the condemnation and criticism we receive from the world will be well deserved.  And sadly, they may never come to Christ because of it.  And while God will hold them accountable for the decisions they made, we also will be held accountable for giving them the opportunity to blaspheme God and to hold him in contempt.  (2 Samuel 12:14)

How about you?  What’s coming out of your life?  Love?  Mercy?  Justice?  Faithfulness?  These are what is important to God.

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Matthew 23:16-22 — Loopholes

I’ve mentioned before the different problems of legalism.  Here we see another problem.  People who are legalistic tend to try to find loopholes.  They may keep the letter of the law (as they see it), but try to find ways to avoid keeping its spirit.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were masters of this, and we see an example here that Jesus brings up.  The law said that you were to keep oaths that you made to God.  But then these men made all kinds of rules of what that actually meant.  If you said, “I swear by the temple,” you weren’t bound by your oath, but if you said, “I swear by the gold of the temple,” you were required to keep it.  If you said, “I swear by God’s altar,” you weren’t bound by your oath, but if you said, “I swear by this gift on the altar,” you were.

And Jesus points out the utter fallacy of this way of thinking.  It is the temple that makes the gold holy, not the reverse.  It is not the gift that makes the altar holy; rather, it’s the altar that makes the gift holy.  Lest the Pharisees try to squirm out from under that concept, he goes on to say that if you swear by the temple, you’re swearing by God who dwells there.  And if you swear by heaven, you swear by God’s throne and by God himself.

What was Jesus’ point?

Just do what’s right.  When God said, “Keep your oaths that you have made to me,” the point wasn’t that it it’s okay to break your oath if it isn’t made in God’s name.  While that is certainly important, the real point was that your word is important.  If you say you’re going to do something, do it.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law focused on “oaths to God” rather than “keeping your oath.”  In so doing, they “strained the gnat,” in making rules on what “oaths to God” meant, and “swallowed the camel” by consistently breaking their other oaths.  (Matthew 23:24).

How about you?  Do you have a heart that truly wants to please God and do what’s right?  Or do you have a heart that only does so grudgingly, and is always looking for loopholes?

You cannot please God by claiming to find loopholes, and slipping through them in your daily life.  Do what’s right.  Do what you know in your heart God has told you to do.

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Matthew 23:13-15 — When those who teach are bad

For some reason, one of the English teachers in the Japanese high school I teach at was showing Karate Kid 2 to his students yesterday.  I can’t say much for the film, but the one character I really like is Mr. Miyagi, the mentor to Daniel who was his karate student.

What does Karate Kid 2 have to do with this blog.  Absolutely nothing.  But the original Karate Kid does.  In the original (and much better film), Daniel asked Mr. Miyagi why the karate students who bullied him acted the way they did.  Mr. Miyagi answered, “No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher.”

Now I don’t know that I completely agree with this statement, but there is some truth to it.  When a teacher is bad, then those who follow him or her will almost inevitably go down the same path.

That’s what you see in this passage.  Jesus continues his scathing of the Pharisees and teachers of the law by saying,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to…Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.  (13-15)

These teachers of the law and Pharisees had a lot of problems.  They were hypocritical, legalistic, and completely blind to what was truly important to God.  The result? All their students were the same way, and even worse.  You see this in Saul of Tarsus before his conversion.

What can we learn from this?

First, as a teacher, what are you like?  The apostle James wrote,

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)

While James is primarily talking about what we teach, he is also talking about our lives.  As teachers, we cannot be like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who did not practice what they preached (Matthew 23:3).

So if you’re a teacher, are you living what you say?  Or are you hypocritical?   And as you teach and live your life, do you always keep in mind what is most important to God?  Justice.  Mercy.  And faithfulness.

For what we need to remember is that God will not only hold you responsible for what you teach and how you live, but to the degree that you are faithful to the position he put you in, he’ll hold you responsible for the kinds of students you produce as well.

The other question you need to ask is who is your teacher?  How is he living his life?  What kinds of things is he teaching?  Because if you are not wise in choosing your teacher, you’ll be going down the same road as they are, and that can be disastrous.

Who are you listening to at church?  Who are you listening to on podcasts?  Whose books are you reading?

Teachers are responsible for what they teach, but you are responsible for what you let in.  So as I’ve said before, I’ll say again,

Test everything.  Hold on to the good. (I Thessalonians 5:21)

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Matthew 23:1-12; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47 — A wrong view of leadership

What is leadership?  What is leadership not?

In a scathing criticism of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus gives us insight into what true leadership is about.

He first warned the disciples and the crowds,

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.  (Matthew 23:1-2)

Here, Jesus tells the people that though they were to respect the offices of authority, nevertheless they were not to do what the teachers of the law and Pharisees did because they didn’t practice what they preached.

Oh, they kept all the minor details of the laws, as well as the traditions of the elders, but when it came down to what was most important, justice, mercy, and faithfulness, they failed miserably.  And it showed in how they treated the people, and how they related to God.

It also showed in how they viewed leadership.  They saw it merely as telling the people what to do, not serving them.  Jesus said of them,

They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  (Matthew 23:4)

These men poured out law upon law, rule upon rule on the people.  But when people started to crumble under the burden of guilt for not being able to keep all these things, they didn’t encourage them; they didn’t pray for them; they didn’t think how to help them.  Rather, they condemned them.

They also saw it as a point of pride to be in that position.  Their phylacteries (boxes that held writings of scripture in them) were wide and their tassels which also had scriptures written on them were long so that all the world would be impressed by their spirituality.

They then abused their position for financial gain.  Jesus said, “They devour widows’ houses,” probably meaning that they used the respect they gained from their position to get money from the widows.

They also gloried in being called “teacher” or “father” by those around them because it showed their high position among the people.  But Jesus said,

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.  (Matthew 23:8-10)

And that’s what a leader is to remember.  Titles are nice to have, but in reality, all of us are equal, and God is the only one who is truly above all.

Yet even God came down to earth as a servant.  He healed the sick, he brought good news to the poor and downtrodden, and then he died on a cross to take the punishment for all of our sins.  And that is the attitude that leaders are to take.

Jesus said,

The greatest among you will be your servant.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  (Matthew 23:11-12)

True leaders are servants.  They don’t look for what they can gain in terms of respect, pride, or money.  Rather, they are willing to sacrifice all for the sake of the people around them.

What kind of leader are you?

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Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44 — Son of David, Son of God

Perhaps tiring of the hypocrisy of those questioning him, Jesus posed his own question to them that ultimately shut them up.  He said,

What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?  (Matthew 22:42a)

This was an easy question for the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and they immediately answered,

The son of David.  (Matthew 22:42b)

Then Jesus challenged their thinking of who the Christ, the Messiah really was.  He asked,

How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him “Lord”? For he says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.'”  If then David calls him “Lord,” how can he be his son? (Matthew 22:43-45)

The answer is simple.  Jesus is not simply the Son of Man (namely David), he is also the Son of God.  He is, as Jesus would later say of himself, “the root and offspring of David.”  (Revelation 22:16)

But this was something the Pharisees and teachers of the law could not see.  Or perhaps did not want to see.

There are many people like that today.  They are willing to see Jesus as the son of man.  A good person.  A great teacher even.  But they are unwilling to acknowledge him as Son of God.

But Jesus is not simply a son of man.  He is the Son of God.  And as such, he is worthy of our honor, our trust, and obedience.  More, he is the only way to the Father.

How about you?  How do you see Jesus?

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Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34 — What we need to understand to enter the kingdom

Of all the people that had come to question Jesus, there was one that seemed to be impressed with what Jesus had to say.  And so he asked Jesus,

Of all the commandments, which is the most important?  (Mark 12:28)

Jesus answered,

The most important one…is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these…All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.  (Mark 12:29-31 and Matthew 22:40)

In other words, if you keep these two laws, to love God with everything you have and you love your neighbor as yourself, you will have kept all of the laws.  All of the laws are summed up in those two commands.

The man questioning Jesus answered,

Well said, teacher…You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.  (Mark 12:32-33)

This man was unique among the other Pharisees and teachers of the law in that he understood that it was not enough to be ritually clean.  He understood that to please God meant going beyond the letter of the law to the spirit beneath it, to love God and to love others.  And if you don’t do these two things, all the “righteous” things you do are worthless.

When Jesus saw the man understood this, he said,

You are not far from the kingdom of God.  (Mark 12:34)

Notice he didn’t say, “Good job.  You are now part of the kingdom!”

Rather, he said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

What was this man lacking?  He was lacking one further insight.  That none of us keep these two commandments perfectly.  And because of that, we need a Savior.  Once this man realized that and put his faith in Jesus, then Jesus could say, “Welcome to the kingdom.”

And that’s what all of us need to realize.  None of us are good enough to earn our way into heaven.  Because no matter how hard we may try, all of us fail in loving God or loving others in one way or another.

That’s why Jesus came.  He died on a cross to take the punishment for our sin.  He then rose again three days later, and if we will put our faith in him, then and only then will we be saved.

Have you done that?  If not, will you do it today?

Lord Jesus, I realize that I have sinned.  I have not loved you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And I haven’t loved my neighbor as myself.  Instead, I have hurt you and others through my actions.  Forgive me.  Thank you for dying on the cross for my sin and taking my punishment.  Now come, and be Lord of my life.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40 — When we fail to understand the scriptures and the power of God

There’s a children’s song that humorously describes the Sadducees.  It says, “I don’t wanna be a Sadducee, ’cause a Sadducee is ‘sad, you see?'”

Yes, I know, a very bad joke.  :)

Nevertheless, they were a sad bunch of people because of one main thing.  They had no hope for a resurrection.  They thought this life was all we have.  And because of that, it shaped the way they saw God, the way they saw life, and the way they saw scripture.

They didn’t understand that God’s power, nor his desire for a lasting relationship with us.  They didn’t understand that life goes beyond the grave, and so they were more interested in the power and influence they had on earth, as well as their wealth.  As a result of these things, it also affected the way they saw scripture.  They only accepted the first five books of the Bible as scripture, and rejected everything else as divinely inspired.

They therefore came up to Jesus with a question that had apparently stumped the Pharisees who did believe in the resurrection of the dead.  It was essentially an asinine question, although one technically possible.  In Jewish culture, if a person’s brother died without having a son, they would have to marry that brother’s wife and have children through her so that their brother’s family line could continue.

So the Sadduccees asked Jesus if a man had 7 brothers, and this happened 6 times because the woman failed to have a son, whose wife would she be in the resurrection?  Like I said, an asinine question, on the level of asking, “Can God make a rock so big that he can’t move it?”

Jesus answered the Sadducees,

You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.   At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.  (Matthew 22:29-30)

Then he stuck the needle in using a passage from the book of Exodus that they had never really thought through (and most people don’t to this day).  He said,

But about the resurrection of the dead–have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead but of the living.  (Matthew 22:31-32)

In other words, God could have said, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  But he purposely said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Even now, I am their God.”

Meaning, of course, that they were still alive, not dead, utterly destroying the Sadducees argument, using the only possible passage they would accept as scripture.

What does this mean for us?  Let us not put God in a box that he has put himself in.  In the Sadducees case, they had boxed him in as a God that could not raise the dead because they did not understand his power.  And the reason they didn’t understand his power was because they did not understand scripture.

Let us not be like the Sadducees.  Let us thoroughly study God’s word, and seek to understand it.  And where it contradicts our ideas of God, let us not cast it aside as the Sadducees did.  Rather, let it transform the way we think about God and cause us to draw closer to him.



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Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26 — Giving to God what is his

I hate paying taxes.  When March rolls around (tax time in Japan), it’s not so bad in that I actually get money back (after the pain of filling out all the tax forms).  But when June rolls around, that’s when it really hurts because that’s when I have to pay property taxes as well as city and prefectural taxes.

Nobody likes paying taxes, but the Jews in Jesus’ day especially loathed it because they were paying it to their conquerors.

And so the Pharisees and Herodians thought they had come up with the perfect question to trap Jesus, saying,

Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?  (Luke 20:21-22)

If one one hand, Jesus said they shouldn’t pay taxes, the Herodians would have immediately reported Jesus to the Roman government accusing him of being an insurgent.

If on the other hand, Jesus said it was right to pay taxes, he would instantly lose popularity with the people.

Jesus, however, knew what they were trying to do.  And once again, he answered a question with a question.  After having them pull out a coin that they would use to pay their taxes, he asked,

Whose portrait and inscription are on it?  (24)

When they answered, “Caesar’s,” Jesus replied,

Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.  (25)

What was Jesus saying?  First, “You are using Casear’s money, aren’t you?  If you are using Caesar’s money, then isn’t it really his?  Give to him what belongs to him.”

But he didn’t stop there.  He said, “But make sure you give to God what belongs to him.”

In one short sentence, he both tactfully attacked what Rome claimed, and taught the people a very important lesson.

The Romans claimed that Caesar was God, and such was written on the inscription of the coin the people showed Jesus.  But Jesus clearly draws a distinction between Caesar and God.  “Give to Caesar, the man, what is his.  But make sure you give the only true God what belongs to him.”

It is the second point Jesus was making, however, that I want to focus on.  Just as the Roman coins had Caesar’s image and inscription on it, so we too have God’s image and inscription upon us.

The Bible says we were made in the image of God.  And in II Corinthians 3:3, Paul tells us,

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

God has written his name upon our hearts, showing that we belong to him.  And though his image upon us has been marred by our sin, nevertheless, through Christ,

We…are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  (II Corinthians 3:18)

What am I saying?  That we belong to him.  And because we belong to him, we need to give to him what rightfully belongs to him.  Not just our money.  But our lives.

Are you giving to God what is rightfully his?

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Matthew 22:1-14 — Entering God’s kingdom on his terms

In this story, we see continued warnings from Jesus about rejecting him and the consequences of doing so.

He told the story of a king who invited people to his wedding banquet.  But when all was ready, the would-be guests refused to come.  Another translation puts it, “They were unwilling to come.”

And though time and again, the king sent messengers to plead with them to come, they “made light of it and went their ways.” (KJV)

More, they even turned violent, beating and killing those sent to them.

This was a picture of Israel as we’ve seen in the other parables, but it’s also a picture of how many respond to the gospel today.  God pleads with us to come into his kingdom.  He himself makes all the preparations; all we have to do is come.  But many people make light of his invitation and go their own way.  And some even abuse and persecute those who offer the invitation.

The result?  Judgment and death.

The king then sent invitations to all, both good and bad, a picture of how after Israel rejected the gospel, the gospel was then taken to the whole world.  And many who were invited responded and entered the kingdom.

But then we see a twist in the story.  As the king looked at those in the banquet, he noticed a person without wedding clothes.  He was simply dressed as he wanted to be with no regard for the host’s requirements.  The king went up to him and asked,

Friend…how did you get in here without wedding clothes?  (12)

The man had no answer and was cast out in the darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (13)

In the same way, many people today hear God’s invitation to the kingdom, and they try to enter.  But they try to enter on their own terms with no regard for God’s requirements.  What is God’s requirement for entering the kingdom.  John tells us,

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  (I John 5:11-12)

In other words, in order to enter the kingdom of God, we must be clothed with Jesus Christ.  Apart from him, there can be no entering the kingdom.

But many people do not want to enter on God’s terms.  They want to enter on their own, spitting on the very invitation God has sent them and the price Jesus paid on the cross that they might come.

We cannot do that.

You can either go to heaven on God’s terms or to hell on your own.  There is no in-between.

How about you?  Are you coming to God on his terms?  Or are you trying to come to him on your own?

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Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19 — When we reject the one on whom all things rest

After nailing the leaders for their unbelief, he then told a parable warning them of what would happen if they didn’t repent.

And the start of it is very similar to Isaiah 5 in which God describes a vineyard that he planted, the vineyard representing Israel and Judah.  And in both cases, we see that the owner does not receive the fruit he deserves from the vineyard.  The one difference is that Jesus places the blame specifically on the tenants who were put in charge of the vineyard.

The tenants, of course, were these very leaders that had rejected Jesus, and all those that had come before them.  They had been put in charge of the spiritual welfare of Israel that they might bear spiritual fruit for God.  But instead, they became corrupted and failed in the charge they had been given.

Why?  They failed to honor God, instead focusing on themselves.  They focused on money, power, and the praise of man.  Is it any wonder that Israel failed to produce fruit when its very leaders failed in their responsibilities?

And so God sent his servants.  Throughout Israel’s history, he sent prophet after prophet to warn and admonish the people.  But time and again, the leaders of Israel rejected the prophets, beating and/or killing them.

Finally, God sent his Son.  But now the leaders planned to kill the Son, hoping to take what rightfully belonged to him.

When Jesus asked the people what would happen to such people, the people replied,

[The owner] will bring those wretches to a wretched end…and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.  (Matthew 21:41)

Nevertheless, the people were astonished that such horrible people could exist, saying, “May this never be!”  (Luke 20:16)

Jesus answered,

Have you never read in the Scriptures: ” ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.  He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be  crushed.”  (Matthew 21:42-44)

What was Jesus saying?  He was saying that he is the one on whom everything rests.  He is the cornerstone (probably a better translation than “capstone” here) of everything.  The cornerstone was always laid down first when constructing a building, and everything was built around it.

In the same way, Jesus is the one we are to build our lives and his kingdom around.  But the Jewish leaders rejected him, and so the kingdom of God would be given to those the leaders despised, the  tax collectors, prostitutes, and the Gentiles who would turn to Jesus and embrace him as Savior.  The leaders, meanwhile, would be judged and lose everything.

How about you?  How are you building your life?  Are you building it on money?  Possessions?  Power?  The things of this world?  Or are you building it around Jesus?  Is he the chief cornerstone of your life?

God has given you your life.  You and all you have ultimately belong to him, and he will demand that you produce fruit in your life for his kingdom.  But you cannot produce fruit if you are living for yourself.  And if you reject him who is the cornerstone, you, like the Jewish leaders will lose everything and be judged.

Who are you living for?


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Matthew 21:23-32; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8 — When you’re too proud to admit you’re wrong

It’s hard to admit when we’re wrong.  I know I struggle with it at times.  The reason?  Pride.  It takes a great deal of humility to simply say, “I was wrong.”

But if we want relationships that last, relationships with others and with God, we need that kind of humility.

This was exactly what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not have.  Time and again, Jesus clearly showed them they were wrong, and they simply could not bring themselves to admit it.  We see this several times over this last week of Jesus’ ministry before he went to the cross.

It starts here, however.  The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders all came up to Jesus asking by what authority he had come to the temple and cleared it out.

Jesus, as was typical, answered their question with a question.

John’s baptism—where did it come from?  Was it from heaven, or of human origin?  (Matthew 21:25)

Immediately, these men were in a quandary.  If they said it was from heaven, then Jesus would say, “Why don’t you believe his words that I am the Messiah, then?  And if you do accept them, then you know exactly where my authority comes from.”

On the other hand, they didn’t want to say it was from men because everyone else in Israel believed John was a prophet, and would not stand for them denigrating him.

So, they answered, “We don’t know.”

And so Jesus said, “Fine.  You don’t answer my question, I won’t answer yours.”

Then he told them a parable of two sons.  One was asked by the father to do something, and he said “Sure,” but ended up doing nothing.  The other refused his father’s request at first, but later changed his mind and obeyed.

This of course was a contrast between these leaders and the “sinners” Jesus ministered to.

Outwardly, these leaders were “righteous.”  But in truth, they rebelled against God.

They saw John and immediately dismissed him as a kook.  But then they started to see the impact he was having, and all the lives that were changing because of John.  They had to know in their hearts that he really was from God, but in their pride, they rejected him anyway.

Then they saw Jesus, they saw all his miracles, and heard all his teaching.  Despite all this, they rejected Jesus too.  Even when he shredded all their arguments and left them speechless, they still clung to their old way of thinking.

On the other hand, these “sinners” the leaders despised had outwardly rebelled against God, ripping people off and selling their bodies for sex.  But then John and Jesus came, and as a result they repented of their sins.  They were humble enough to recognize their wrong, and so turned from their sins.

And so Jesus told these leaders,

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  (31)

How about you?  Are you so proud that you can’t admit when you’re wrong?  It’s bad enough when that pride tears apart your relationships with others.  It’s worse when it keeps you from a relationship with God.

So let us have hearts that are humble and soft to correction.  That can admit when we are wrong.  Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves in the same position as these leaders.  Separated from others and separated from God.

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John 12:44-50 — When we see and hear Jesus

So many people say, “I believe in God,” but refuse to put their faith in Jesus.

But if you truly believe in God, that is exactly what you cannot do.  Jesus says here,

Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  (44-46)

Jesus is saying here that to believe in him is to believe in God.  To see him is to see God.

He then said,

For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.   I know that his command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. (49-50)

So to hear Jesus also means to hear God, because he speaks the very words of God.  And to reject Jesus’ words is to reject God’s words.  More, to reject Jesus means to reject God himself.

And Jesus says,

There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.  (48)

All of us will be held accountable for what we have heard Jesus say.  If you believe him, you will find light and life.  But if you reject him, you will find only judgment and darkness.  What will you choose?


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John 12:42-43 — From whom we seek praise

One of the saddest comments you’ll ever read in the Bible comes from these two verses.

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him.  But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

Basically you see in this passage a bunch of undercover believers.  They had seen all that Jesus had done and had heard all his teaching, and they believed.  But they did not tell anyone because they feared being put out of the synagogue.  And to be put out of the synagogue was essentially to be cut off from society.  But what that showed was that they were more interested in what people thought of them rather than what God thought of them.

If Satan cannot prevent you from becoming a believer, the thing he wants to do most is to prevent you from sharing your faith.  And his best weapon in doing so is asking the question, “What will happen if others find out if you believe?”

For some, the answer is clear cut. It means rejection by their family, their friends, and those around them.  That’s what these leaders faced.  A certain excommunication from the synagogue and society.

For others, the answer is not so clear.  But they are ruled by the fear of what others might think of them.  I know I was that way all the way through my sophomore year in high school.  I didn’t tell anyone I was a Christian, not because I knew I would be rejected, but I because I feared I might be rejected.

But God does not want us to live that way.  He wants us to make a difference in this world for him, but we cannot as long as we are afraid of what others think.

Some people will reject us for our faith.  As one preacher put it, that is an occupational hazard of being a Christian.  Not everyone will like us.  As I’ve said before, Jesus was perfect, and people still hated him.  How can we expect to be any different from our master?

But what we’ll find is that if we share our faith, some will receive it and be saved.

So let’s not worry about being rejected because of our faith in Christ.  Let us proclaim it boldly and let the chips fall where they may.  For as Jesus said,

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.  (Matthew 10:32-33)

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John 12:27-41 — Before it’s too late

Sometime people put off following Christ thinking they can always do it later.  But in this passage, we see the danger of that.

Jesus in thinking about the cross and his determination to follow the Father’s plan cried out,

Father, glorify your name!  (28a)

In a voice that all could hear, the Father replied,

I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.  (28b)

Yet though all could hear the voice, it seemed that few if any actually heard it.  Some said it was thunder.  Others said it was an angel.  Why couldn’t they understand the Father’s words?  John later comments,

This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:  “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”  For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:  “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.”  Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.  (38-41)

I’ve explained this passage in another blog, and essentially what it comes down to is that the people couldn’t hear the voice because they had already hardened their hearts to Jesus.  Some hardened their hearts because his background as a carpenter from Nazareth was not what they expected from a Messiah.  Others rejected him because he exposed the hypocrisy of their religion.  Others rejected him because his teaching went against their religious rules and traditions.

And when Jesus performed miracles that proved who he was and the truth of his words, they tried to explain it away saying he did them by Satan’s power, or in this case, by trying to say it never really happened.  That they were just imagining things.

The problem was, the more they hardened their hearts, closing their eyes and ears to the truth, the more blind and deaf they became.

And so Jesus tried to warn them, saying,

You are going to have the light just a little while longer.  Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.  The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.  Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.  (35-36)

In other words, “Your time is short.  If you don’t soften your hearts, you will become blind forever.  Put your trust in me and the light I bring while you still can.”

Jesus says the same thing to you.  He was lifted up on a cross that all people might be drawn to him and be saved.  But if you harden your heart to him, if you close your eyes and ears to what you know is true, the time will come when you can no longer recognize the truth though it’s right in front of you.  And then it will be too late.  As Paul wrote,

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.  (II Corinthians 6:2)


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John 12:20-26 — In order to serve

With all the buzz surrounding Jesus, both with his spectacular entry into Jerusalem, and his just as spectacular cleansing of the temple, it’s little wonder that first time visitors would wish to see him.  In this case, it was some Greek proselytes who became interested in who this Jesus was.  Perhaps it was because Phillip had a Greek name that these men approached him first.  And together with Andrew (someone who always seemed to be introducing others to Jesus), Phillip brought these men to Jesus.

Jesus responded by saying,

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  (23-24)

In saying this, Jesus was talking about his death and resurrection.  As long as he was alive, his ministry would be limited to what he could do in Israel.  But after his death, through the Holy Spirit, his work would spread all over the world, touching not only the Greeks, but every tribe and nation.

But Jesus then said to his disciples,

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me.  (25-26)

Here Jesus says both the blindingly obvious, and the paradoxical truth.   The blindingly obvious?  That whoever serves Jesus must follow him, and that wherever he is, his servant must be.

It’s very hard to serve a person when you’re never around him.  And if you really want to serve Jesus, you need to be in a place where you can see and hear what he wants.

But in order to be where Jesus is, you sometimes need to leave things behind, including things and people you love.  And that’s why he says something seemingly paradoxical:  Whoever loves his life will lose it, but anyone who hates his life will keep it for eternal life.

This doesn’t mean that we should hate everything and every moment of our lives.  But the things and people we love in this world need to take second place to Jesus.  If for example, Jesus leads you to leave your country in order to serve him in another, then you need to follow him there.  Or if Jesus says, “Leave your high-paying job so you can serve me better,” then you need to be willing to do so for the sake of his kingdom.

Sometimes following Jesus means change.  Sometimes it means sacrifice.  But we can’t serve Jesus if we’re not where he is.  And while the change or sacrifice might seem painful at the time, in the end, we’ll find it was all worth it.

I found that out coming to Japan.  I never dreamed that I’d ever leave Hawaii.  But when I came to Japan, I found out that I was happier here than I ever was in Hawaii.  I found life by leaving what I loved in Hawaii in order to follow Jesus.

And so will you.

How about you?  Are you where Jesus is?

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Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:20-25 — How much faith do I have?

Faith.  It’s something I must admit I struggle with, particularly in prayer.  When I pray, do I pray in faith?  And what does it mean?

When the tree Jesus withered, the disciples were amazed and asked how it could wither so quickly.  Jesus answered,

Have faith in God.  (Mark 11:22)

Have faith in God.  What does that mean?  What are we believing about God?

We’re believing first that he is a good God.  That he is a loving Father that only gives good gifts.  That if we ask him for bread, he will not give us a stone.  Or if we ask for a fish, he will not give us a serpent.

We’re believing that he hears us.  That even the tiniest prayer we breathe, he hears.  No matter how big, or how insignificant our problem may be, he sees and hears our cries.

We’re believing that he has the power to do what we ask.  That no thing we ask is too big for him.

We’re believing that he wants to bless us.  That he won’t withhold what is good from us for no good reason.

We believe that he has an overriding plan for our lives.  And that plan is good.

With all this in mind, Jesus then says,

I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:23-24)

Some people take this verse to mean that whatever we ask God for, he must give it to us.

But sometimes we ask for something thinking it’s bread, thinking it’s fish, when in reality it is a stone or a serpent.  We pray, for example, to marry that girl or guy at school and ten years later, we are thanking God he didn’t give them to us.

Or sometimes we pray for something good, but God has something even better planned for us.  For example, we pray for a certain job, only to have God give us an even better one.

So to just pray believing God will give us whatever we want does not guarantee we will get what we ask for.

My problem, however, is not in these areas.  My prayer is in the other areas.  Do I believe that God really wants to bless me?  Do I really believe he has the power to do as I ask?

I think about my current job that I just got back in April.  It is in almost every way much better than my previous jobs over the past 8 years.  Yet because of all the difficulties I faced in getting the job, I was wracked with doubt as to whether God would give it to me.  I suppose it didn’t help that I had applied for that very job a few years back and didn’t get it.  So many times I had prayed for things, and was disappointed.  I suppose it’s a testimony to the grace of God that I got the job anyway.

Another friend I know is facing terminal cancer.  It looked hopeless.  The doctors said it was hopeless.  My friend asked for prayer.  I prayed, but with little hope.  Certainly not praying, “believing I have received it.”  Do I believe that God has the power to heal?  Certainly.  I guess it’s just that I saw him choose not to heal another friend of cancer (she passed away a year ago) that makes me doubt.  And yet, God does seem to be healing my friend now.

What am I trying to say?  First, God certainly responds to faith, and is pleased by it, but he is not restricted by how strong our faith is.

But second, I should pray with more hope.  With more confidence.  Because God can and will answer prayer.

As one man once said, “Lord, I believe.  Lord increase my faith.”


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Matthew 21:12-22; Mark 11:11-25; Luke 19:45-48 — Fruitless

This is a story where it is a little hard to understand the actions of Jesus.  Why would he curse a tree that wasn’t bearing fruit though it was not even the season for it?

There does tend to be disagreement on the answer.  One idea is that that during the time of the Passover, fig trees in Palestine usually produced crops of small edible buds.  These buds were often eaten by local peasants, and it was perhaps this that Jesus was looking for.  But if there were no buds growing at that time, it was a sign that there would be no fruit at all from the tree.

I don’t know if this is the answer, but it seems as reasonable as any other explanation I’ve heard.

At any rate, sandwiched around the cleansing of the temple as it is in Mark, it seems Jesus was making a point.  That just as judgment came upon that fig tree for not bearing fruit, so judgment was coming upon Israel for not bearing spiritual fruit.  This was clearly seen in the temple and the people running it.

Early in his ministry, Jesus had cleansed the temple, casting out the merchants and money changers from the court of the Gentiles.  As I mentioned before, this was the only area where the foreigners could come and worship God within the temple courts.  But the priests had turned it into a market, and not only that, a “den of thieves” where people who came there were cheated of their money.  And this was the temple.  The very center of Israelite worship.

All of their religious acts, all of their zeal, was proven to be corrupt by what was happening in their temple.  Particularly in the fact that they not only rejected Jesus as Messiah, but plotted to kill him.  And because of that, judgment came when Titus tore down the temple for the final time.  To this day, it has not been rebuilt.  Why?  Because for all the time and love God poured into Israel, ultimately, they proved to be fruitless.

But none of God’s actions are fruitless.  Through the Jews’ rejection of Christ, the gospel spread to the world.  And in time, the Jews too will come to Christ.  (Romans 11)

The question we need to ask ourselves, however, is what fruit is coming out of our lives?  The Bible calls our lives the temple of God.  As his temples, are we bearing fruit?  Are we making a difference in the lives around us?  Or have we let ourselves become corrupted by the world?  By a love of money as the priests had, or by other things?  If so, then we will stop bearing fruit and all that we “accomplish” or “achieve” will eventually be burned.

Let us not be fruitless, but fruitful.  Filled with God’s Spirit, and touching the lives of all he puts in our path.

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Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19 — What would bring us peace

Lots going on in these passages, and as you look at all four gospels, you really get an idea of the frenzy going on due to Jesus’ entrance in Jerusalem.  People are shouting,

Hosanna to the Son of David!” 

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  (Matthew 21:9)


“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10)

And again,

Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!  (Luke 19:38)

And ultimately,

Blessed is the king of Israel!  (John 12:13)

Because of the frenzy some people were asking, “What’s going on?  Who is this guy?”  And others replied, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”  (Matthew 21:11)

We see from John that one of the reasons for all this frenzy was that people were still talking about Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17-18)

At first, the Pharisees tried to stop all of this, even trying to get Jesus to stop his disciple from crying out all these words of praise.  But when Jesus refused, they muttered to themselves,

This is getting us nowhere.  Look how the whole world has gone after him!  (John 12:19)

But for all the frenzy surrounding Jesus’ coming the most poignant moment comes just before Jesus enters the city.  In the midst of all the cries of joy from the people, Jesus wept when he saw Jerusalem, saying,

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.  The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.  They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”  (Luke 19:42-44)

And that’s exactly what happened in AD 70 when Titus came and destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.

Why did this happen?  Because they, “did not recognize the time of God’s coming” to them.  And because of that, they missed the peace that could have been theirs.  Peace within themselves.  But more importantly, peace with God.

The same is true with us.  God comes to each of us at some time in our lives.  According to Romans chapter 1, even the one who has never heard of God has that opportunity.  When they gaze into the sky or see all the nature around them, the Spirit speaks to them saying, “This cannot be an accident.  This was designed.  You were designed.  Seek the Designer.”

For others, the call is much more direct.  It comes at church or through a friend telling them about Christ.

And at that point people reach a crossroad.  What will they do with this call?  Will they listen and follow?  Or will they reject it?  To follow is to find peace with God and eternal life.  To reject it means judgment and eternal death.

How about you?  If you are reading this, God is calling you now.  Now is the day of salvation.  Won’t you receive him today?  All you need to do is pray.

Lord Jesus, I have sinned.  I’ve been living my own way, and in doing so I’ve hurt you, I’ve hurt the people I love, and I’ve hurt myself.  Forgive me.  I believe you died on the cross for my sins and rose again.  Thank you for that kind of love.  Now come into my life and save me.   Be my King.  Be my Lord.  I want to follow you from now on.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16 — The Lord needs it

We have now reached the home stretch of the life of Jesus, his final week.

As I read this passage, one phrase struck me.  Jesus was instructing his disciples to do something very unusual, to go into the village, and just take a colt and donkey that they found there.  And if anyone challenged them, they were to simply say, “The Lord needs it.”

The disciples did as they were told, and when the owners saw this, they immediately asked,

Why are you untying the colt? (Luke 19:33)

The disciples responded as Jesus had commanded, and immediately the owners acquiesced.

The question that came to my mind was, “When the Lord says to me of something, ‘I need this,’ how do I respond?”

If Jesus, for example, were to say, “I need you to give some money to this person.  They are in need.”  Would I immediately say, “Yes Lord?”

Or if were headed somewhere, and I happen to run into someone, and Jesus were to say, “I need some of your time.  Stop and talk to this person,” would I do so?

Or if God were to tell me, “It’s time to leave Nishinomiya.  I need you elsewhere for another work,” would I say yes?

Or would I instead cling to what is mine?

Honestly, I don’t know, and probably too often, the Lord has told me, “I need this from you,” and for whatever reason, I said no.

“I’m too busy.”


“I need that money for other things.”

The disciples brought the colt to Jesus, set him on it, and honored him as king.  And we need to do the same.  When Jesus says to us, “I need this,” we need to bring it to Jesus, setting him above it, and honoring him as our king over all.

Do I?  Do you?

Lord, forgive me for the times that you said to me, “I need this,” and I didn’t give it to you.  My time especially.  Lord, help me to set you as king over my time, my money, and my life.  Help me to rearrange my priorities and to truly honor you as Lord over all things in my life.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Luke 19:28; John 11:55-57 — A cleansing that goes beyond the surface

Right after Jesus’ parable about those who were determined to reject him as king, we see the actual people whom Jesus was speaking of.

Jesus was fast approaching Jerusalem, and a lot of people were already there to celebrate the Passover. And everyone was asking,

What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the Feast at all? (John 11:56)

But the Pharisees and chief priests had already given orders that anyone who found Jesus should report him to them so that they could arrest him.  The irony of all this?

Before celebrating the Passover, people had to purify themselves, that is to have a ceremonial cleansing (John 11:55).  But while these priests and Pharisees may have been outwardly clean, their hearts were full of murder.

What can we learn from all this?  A spiritual cleansing goes beyond ritual.  It goes beyond doing a lot of good things.  A spiritual cleansing starts by receiving Jesus as your King.  It starts by saying, “I can’t cleanse myself.  All my efforts, all the religious rituals that I do can’t cleanse me.  Lord Jesus, help me.”

John tells us in his first letter that in the end, it is,

the blood of Jesus, [God's] Son, [that] purifies us from all sin.  (I John 1:7)

There is no other way for us to become right in the sight of God.  We must come to the cross of Christ and accept the work he did for our salvation.  Only by putting our faith in him will we truly become clean in the eyes of God.

How about you?  Are you truly clean before God?

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Luke 19:11-28 — If we are determined to reject Christ

There is another point to this story that Jesus told that we didn’t get to touch on yesterday.

It says in verses 12-15,

A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return….But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’  He was made king, however, and returned home.

This was actually based on a true story.  When Herod the Great died, one of his sons Archelaus had to go to Rome to have his kingship ratified since they were the true power in Israel at that time.  The Jews, however, sent an embassy to Caesar Augustus basically saying that they didn’t want him as king.  Ultimately, Archelaus received charge over Judea, but did not receive the title of king.

In the same way, Jesus is awaiting his Father’s “ratification” of his kingdom.  But to this day, there are people who hate him and say, “We don’t want this Jesus as our king.”  But whether they want him as king or not, Jesus will be king someday.  And if these people continue in their rejection of him, they will be judged and condemned as the people in Jesus’ story were.

How about you?  Have you made Jesus king in your life?  He will be king whether you want him to or not.  Would it not be better to turn over your life to him willingly, rather than to fight it and be condemned for all eternity?

I don’t mean to try to “scare the hell out of you.”  I’d much rather talk about God’s love and grace.  And God does truly love you.  He sent his Son to die on a cross so that your sins could be forgiven and you could have peace with him.  But if you spit on that peace offering, and are determined to reject Jesus as king, then only judgment remains.

The apostle John wrote,

Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  (John 3:18)

The choice is yours.  What will you choose?



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Luke 19:11-27 — While we are waiting

It says that Jesus told this next parable because,

He was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.  (11)

In other words, there was an idea that he wanted to dispel from their minds, but there was another idea that he wanted to plant.  And so he said,

A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.  So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.  ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’  (12-13)

The idea that Jesus wanted to dispel?  That his kingdom was imminent.

Before becoming king, he had to first die on the cross to deal with the problem with sin.  And when he did so, he ascended to heaven and sat down at the Father’s side.  And now the Bible says,

Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool… (Hebrews 10:13).

And to this day we await our Lord’s return.

So until that day, what are we to do?

We are to serve him until he returns.  That’s the idea he wanted to plant in their minds.  That there is still much work to be done.

In the story, the king-to-be called ten of his servants in and gave them each an equal amount of money and said, “Put this to work until I come back.”

What is Jesus talking about here?  I believe he’s talking about the salvation we have received.  Notice that these men didn’t work to obtain the money.  They were simply given it.  But they were to invest what they were given.

In the same way, we never worked for our salvation, rather we received it by God’s grace.  But we are to take what we’ve been given from God, and put it to work.

Paul puts it this way,

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.  (Philippians 2:12-13)

What does it mean to invest this salvation we have been given?  It means to take this salvation we have received and invest it in the lives of others.  To not hoard this salvation we have received to ourselves, but to share it with others.  To pray for them.  To minister to them.  And to be the mouth, ears, and hands of Jesus in their lives.  And we are to do this until Jesus returns.

If we do, we will be rewarded.  How?  By being given more responsibilities in his kingdom.  So many people want to do great things for God.  But if they fail in the task of sharing this salvation they’ve been given, can they expect God to give them more responsibilities?

What’s more, if they fail to invest in the kingdom, as the last man in the story did, all they can expect is rebuke from Jesus when he returns.

.Paul says of such people,

He will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  (I Corinthians 3:15)

How about you?  What are you doing with this gift of salvation you have received?


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Luke 19:1-10 — Because of us

This is a very famous story in the Bible, and it’s one I’ve heard (and sang) since I was a kid.  But as I looked at it today, verse 3 struck me.

[Zacchaeus] wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.

Zacchaeus, of course, was a tax collector.  In our day and age that would be bad enough.  In the Jews day and age it was worse, because as I’ve mentioned before, they were basically considered collaborators with the Roman government, not to mention crooks.  As a result, they were utterly despised by their fellow Jews.

And yet, he wanted to see Jesus.  Why?  Probably because though he had all the money he could possibly want, he still felt empty inside.  And in Jesus, he saw something different.  He saw life and hope.

But because of the crowd, he couldn’t see them.  This was a crowd, that if you had asked them, would probably have said that they were very religious.  That they loved God.  And yet because of them, Zacchaeus could not see Jesus.

Part of this was because he was short, of course, and because of the sheer number of people.  But I think there’s also a chance that Zacchaeus knew what would happen if he tried to push through to draw near to Jesus.  That being who he was, the crowd would not be inclined to let him through.

And so he climbed a tree in order to see Jesus.  When Jesus saw him, however, he said,

Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today.  (5)

If there had been any doubt at what the people’s reaction to Zacchaeus would be, it was quickly dispelled as the people grumbled,

[Jesus] has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’

But touched by the love of Jesus, Zacchaeus became a changed man, and he said,

Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.  (8)

What can we get from this?  How often are like that crowd?  We say we love God.  We say that we even follow Jesus.  But because of us, people can’t see him.  They can’t see him because we fail to tell them about him.  Or even worse, because we look down on them and even push them away.

But let us always remember Jesus’ reaction to Zacchaeus.  He longs for a relationship with them.   That’s why he went to the cross.  Not just for you and me.  But for those around us.  Even the despised.  So let us not despise those around us.  And let us not block others off from him.  Rather let us remember these words of Jesus and live them.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  (10)


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Matthew 20-29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43 — Looking beyond ourselves

As I read the story of Bartimaeus and his friend, what strikes me is the incredible compassion and love Jesus had for people.

Here Jesus is, headed for the cross, and his closest friends, despite all he’s told him, still don’t understand what’s about to happen.  In that situation it would have been understandable for him to get lost in his own thoughts, frustrations, and anxieties.  But as he is walking along, he hears a familiar cry.

Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!  (Matthew 20:30).

It would have been so easy to miss.  And even easier to ignore, pretending that he didn’t hear these two men over the crowd.  Particularly since the people around these men were telling them to shut up.

But instead Jesus stopped, and said, “Call them.”

And when these two men came up to him, he asked, “What do you want me to do?”

They replied, “Lord, we want to see.”

And Matthew tells us that Jesus was filled with compassion for these two men, touched them, and healed them.

Instead of focusing on his own troubles and frustrations, Jesus saw beyond himself to the needs of those crying out for help.

I wonder.  How often do we see beyond ourselves and see the needs of others as Jesus did.  How often do we instead only look at ourselves and our needs and frustrations?  And because of that we either miss or ignore the opportunities we have to reach out with God’s love.

I found out yesterday that Robin Williams died, apparently from suicide.  Here was a man that brought so much laughter and even comfort to others.  And yet, he was also a man tortured by his own demons.  And I wonder, “Was there a Christian in his life that missed that chance to minister to him?”

Maybe there wasn’t.  And if there was, I’m not saying that I’m condemning them for missing that chance.  Because I have missed too many opportunities of my own.  I’ve failed.

May we learn to be like our Savior.  Looking beyond ourselves long enough to see the needs and hurts of those in our lives.  And like our Savior, reaching out with the hand of God to bring healing in their lives.

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Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45 — A totally different attitude

As I mentioned in my last blog, though Jesus had been as crystal clear with the disciples as he possibly could, they still didn’t get it.  They still didn’t get why he was there, and what was facing them.  Because if they had, I can’t imagine that James and John would have asked Jesus what they did, prompted by their mother or not.

They said,

Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.  (Mark 10:37)

One wonders how Jesus felt.  Here he had just told them that he was going to die, and they were fighting for position in his kingdom.  And so he said,

You don’t know what you are asking…Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?  (38)

In other words, “Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve been saying?  I’m going to die.  You want to die on my right and left?”

That’s what he meant, but as usual, Jesus’ words went right over their heads, and they replied, “We can.”

Jesus then told them,

You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.  (39)

And in time, both of them would suffer for Christ.  James was beheaded, and John was forced into exile.

But Jesus also told them,

But to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.  These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.  (40)

When the other disciples heard about James’ and John’s request, they became indignant.  Why?  Because James and John were so insensitive to Jesus’ plight?  No, they were indignant because they hadn’t thought of asking Jesus first.  And each of them thought they were more qualified than the others.

But Jesus pulled them together, and he told them,

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:42-45)

Essentially what Jesus told them was, “Guys, you need a little attitude readjustment.  All of you are so worried about your position in my kingdom, because you think that a high position means a cushy life.  That it means ordering people around, and having them obey your every whim.

“But that’s not what greatness in my kingdom means.  If you truly want to be great, you need to serve.  And if you want to be at the very top, you need to be the slave of all.  After all, I’m not here to have other people serve me.  I’m here to serve and give my life for them.”

I’ve got to admit, I’m far from having this kind of attitude.  And it’s a struggle sometimes, because it’s so easy to compete and compare myself with others.  But when we do ministry, the point is not to show ourselves better than others, it’s to serve them.

This is true not just in ministry, but in every aspect of life.  At work, we need to be serving our customers and coworkers.

And in our homes, men especially need to have this kind of attitude as head of the household.  An attitude of serving their wives and children.

And to be honest, I fail far too often in all three arenas.

And so I guess my prayer is the one that James and John offered in that old Christian musical “The Witness.”  After hearing Jesus’ words, they prayed,

Lord make me like you.  Please make me like you.
You are a servant.  Make me one too.

O Lord I am willing.
Do what you must do to make me like you Lord.
Make me like you.

Whatever you do Lord, please make me like you.

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Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34 — Failing to see what is clear

As I look at this particular story, it is the last phrase in Luke’s account that strikes me.

The disciples did not understand any of this.  Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.  (34)

“This” and “its” of course  is referring to Jesus’ telling them that he would be betrayed and crucified, and then rise again from the dead.

Luke’s words strike me because Jesus spoke so plainly.  I really don’t see how they could possible misunderstand him.  Yet, as clearly as Jesus spoke, they could not understand.

Why not?

Perhaps one reason was that they simply weren’t ready to understand.  And that’s true with many of us as we look at scripture.  When we are young as Christians, some things are simply difficult to understand.  But as we mature in our knowledge and our faith, we start to grasp the things God is telling us.

Perhaps there was some of this at work in the disciples, but I think there were other things as well.

For one thing, they didn’t want to understand.  They didn’t want to believe that Jesus would die.  And because they didn’t want to believe that he would die, any words concerning his death and resurrection went right past them.

For another, they were too focused on what they wanted, rather than what God’s will was.  You only have to look at James’ and John’s request a few verses later to see that.

How often are we the same?  We see something crystal clear in scripture, or God speaks to our heart so clearly that there should be no way that we can miss it, and yet we do.

Looking back, it should have been so clear to me that God was calling me to Japan.  Time and again, people were telling me, “I can’t see you working at a regular desk job.  I see you in ministry.”  Or sometimes they said outright, “I can see you being a missionary in Japan.”

But because I had no interest in ever leaving Hawaii, no less going to Japan, I couldn’t see it for a long time.

And whenever I read passages like, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” my thought was always, “Well, God isn’t calling ME to do that.”

It took several years, and a lot of work on God’s part to actually turn my heart, but when he did, I found the joy of following him and doing what he has said.

And so will you if you’ll soften your heart to him.

So the question is, “Where is your heart?  Have you blinded yourself to what God is saying to you?  Or have you opened your heart completely to what God is telling you?”

May our words to our Lord always be, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

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Matthew 20:1-16 — But it’s not fair!

I believe this parable Jesus told was in direct response to Peter’s question of,

We have left everything to follow you!  What then will there be for us?  (Matthew 19:27)

And in telling this story, I think Jesus meant both to encourage Peter, but also to warn him.

Jesus told of a man who hired different workers throughout the day to work in his vineyard.  To the first crew he hired, he specifically negotiated an amount to pay them (a denarius, which was a typical salary for a full day’s work) .  To the remaining crews he hired, no specific amount was negotiated.  Instead, he simply said,

You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.  (4)

At the end of the day, he paid the workers who started later first, and he paid each of them a denarius.  So when the people who had started from early in the morning walked up to get their pay, they obviously expected to get paid more.  Instead, they got one denarius as well.  Because of this, they started to grumble.  And rightfully so.  Some of the other workers only worked a single hour.  And yet, they got paid the same as the ones who had worked all day.

But look at the landowner’s response.

I am not being unfair to you, friend.  Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?  (13-15)

In other words, the workers couldn’t complain that they had been cheated.  They received the exact amount that they had negotiated for in the morning.  They weren’t angry because they were cheated, but because the landowner was generous with the others who had come later.

What was Jesus’ point to Peter?

“Don’t worry so much about ‘what you’ll get’ for following me.  Don’t worry about getting ‘what you deserve.’  And don’t go comparing yourself to other people, concerning yourself with how much you’ve given up and how much they have given up.  You will be rewarded.

But God isn’t so much interested in giving people what they deserve.  He is a God that delights in giving so much more.  And if you are so busy worrying about getting “what you deserve,” God may just give it to you…and nothing more.

But if you do what God asks, without  worrying about what others are doing, or how much more you should be rewarded for what you’ve done, you’ll find that God is so much more generous than you can possibly imagine.”

How about you?  Are you constantly comparing yourself to others?  Are you always wondering why God seems to be blessing others more than you even though you are “doing more?”

Remember that grace has nothing to do with “what we deserve.”  Rather grace is all about God’s goodness to us though we deserve nothing.  Truth be told, the only thing we deserve from God is death, because all of us has sinned.

So let us not focus on what we deserve.  Rather let us rejoice in God’s grace that he gives us what we don’t deserve.  Eternal life.  Joy.  Peace.  Love.  And he gives to us abundantly.


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Matthew 19:27-30; Mark 10:28-31; Luke 18:28-30 — Is it worth it?

Is it really worth it to follow Christ?  That was the question the rich young ruler had to face.  Unfortunately, he decided that it wasn’t.

Peter too asked himself the same question.  “I’ve given up everything to follow after Jesus.  But is it really worth it?”  And so he said,

We have left everything to follow you!  What then will there be for us?  (Matthew 19:27)

Jesus replied,

Truly I tell you…no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age:  homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.  (Mark 10:29-31)

A couple of things to note here.

First, Jesus says that we will be rewarded for following him.  Not just in heaven, but here.  And not just rewarded, but richly rewarded.  This is not to say that we will all be wealthy.  But at  the end of the day, when we look back on our lives, we will be able to say, “I have been blessed.  It was all worth it to follow Christ.”

But there’s also one little note that Jesus added.  It’s only found in Mark, but it really stands out when you read it.  Jesus talks about all the blessings you will receive, but then he also warns, “You will be persecuted.  Persecutions will come for following after me.”

In other words, being a Christian is not all fun and games.  Yes, it is a joy.  Yes, there are multiple blessings upon blessings for following Jesus.  But there will be people who will dislike, and even hate us for it.  Jesus was the perfect Son of God, and people still hated him.  How can we expect to be exempt from the same treatment that Jesus received?  As Jesus said, “No servant is greater than his master?”  (John 15:20)

So let us not be surprised when hardships come because we follow Christ.  Instead, let us keep our eyes on the prize, and know that whatever we may suffer in this life because we follow Christ, in the end, it truly will be worth it all.

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Mark 10:21-22 — Loving people enough to tell the truth

It would be easy to think that Jesus was being mean by throwing out such an impossible challenge to the young ruler who wanted so desperately to enter the kingdom of God.  Who at least to some degree was quite zealous for God, but who then quickly had that zeal quenched by the words Jesus spoke.

But Mark tells us something very interesting about Jesus’ feelings for the young man.  It says in verse 21,

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

Jesus looked not just at the exterior, he looked right into this man’s heart and soul.  He saw the zeal.  But he also saw what was lacking.  And it was his deepest desire that this young man also see what was lacking so that he might seek help and find life.

So he said something that revealed the truth to this young man.

One thing you lack…Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.  (21b)

In other words, “You told me you feel that you lack something.  You do.  You’ve put money above God.  So go and sell everything you have.  You said that you love your neighbor as yourself.  Then take the money you receive from all you sell, and give it to the poor.  Then you will have true treasure.  Then come, follow me.”

As he said this, it was Jesus’ deepest desire that this young man would find true life.  But instead, the young man walked away sadly.

Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the truth.  He told it like it was.  Not to be mean.  Nor did he say it with coldness of spirit.  Rather, he said it out of true compassion and love.

We need to do the same.  To speak the truth.  Sometimes the truth is hard.  Sometimes people will reject it.  But we need to speak it.

But we also need to say it with genuine love and compassion.  Too often, people use it simply as a blunt instrument to beat people with.

Let us not be that way.  Instead, let us wield the truth in the manner that Jesus did.  People may still reject it, but may they never doubt the spirit in which we speak.  They may be hurt by what we say, but may they never doubt that we truly care for them and want what is best for them.


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Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-27, Luke 18:18-27 — The impossibility of salvation

My religion professor in university brought up this story when talking about Christianity.  His point?  “If you want eternal life, you have to sell everything you have.”

Which shows the fallacy of not looking at a scripture in its context, because that was not Jesus’ point at all.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

It’s interesting looking at the different accounts of this story, because through them, you get a composite view of this man who came to Jesus.  He was young (Matthew 19:22), rich (all the accounts), and a ruler (Luke 18:18).

And he asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good?  And why do you ask me about what is good?  No one is good except God alone.”

Here Jesus dispels one thing that many people say about Jesus.  Namely, “Jesus was a good man, but he wasn’t God.”

Jesus told the young man and us, “You can call me God.  Or you can call me just a man.  But if you call me just a man, you cannot call me good, because only God is good.”

He then told the man, “You know the commandments.  Do them, and you will find life.”

At first glance, it seems that Jesus is telling us that we can work our way into heaven.  But look at what the young man said next.

All these I have kept…What do I still lack?  (Mathew 19:20)

Here we see the problem of many people today.  They do their best to follow God’s commands.  To do what is right.  Maybe, like this young man, they even think they have achieved it.  But deep in their soul, they know something is wrong.  That something is lacking.  Why?

Because though we may fool others and even ourselves, none of us meet God’s standard.  The Bible says,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23)

And if we look deeply into ourselves, we’ll realize that.

Why then, did Jesus point to the commandments as the way to life?  I think the apostle Paul gives us the answer.

No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law (because no one can keep it); rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.  (Romans 3:20)

The law cannot make us righteous any more than a mirror can clean our face.  What the law can do is show us the sin that is there.

And through the law, we see our need for a Savior.

The problem is, sometimes the mirror can get a little blurred.  Not that the law itself is blurry, but we make it blurry by our own conceptions of what it means.  And that was the problem with this young man.  He was convinced that he had kept the law.  And so Jesus cleaned off the mirror so that the young man could see clearly.  He said,

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.  (Matthew 19:21)

Why did Jesus say that?  Because the young man was right.  He was lacking something.  He had put his money ahead of God.  Money was most important to him.  And by this attitude, he broke the first commandment against putting anything ahead of God in his life.

The man now saw clearly.  And sadly, instead of saying, “Jesus, help me.  Have mercy on me a sinner,” he walked away.  He walked away sadly.  But he did walk away.

And Jesus said,

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  (Mark 10:23)

His disciples were stunned to hear this because they always had thought that people were rich because of God’s blessing.  But Jesus said again,

Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  (Mark 10:24-25)

Why?  Because it is impossible to hold on to the things of God when you’re holding on to the things of this world.  And the rich have more things of this world to hold than most people.  And more to let go of.

The disciples then asked,

Who then can be saved?  (Mark 10:26)

And now we come to the key point of this entire passage.  Jesus answered,

With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.  (Mark 10:27)

Salvation apart from God is impossible.  None of us can make it because none of us are perfect.  That’s what Jesus wanted to make clear to the young man.

But because of Christ’s work on the cross, because of what God did, salvation is now possible.  All we have to do is believe.

As John wrote,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

Won’t you accept God’s gift of salvation today?

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Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17 — Like a child

When Jesus rebuked his disciples for trying to chase the children away, he said to them,

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.  (Mark 10:14-15)

What does it mean to receive the kingdom like a child?  What is a child like?

1.  They are completely trusting.  Until they are hardened by years of hurt, lies, and betrayal, they have a heart that is totally trusting and believes what it is told.  That’s the kind of heart that we need.  Sin, at its base, is a lack of trust in God.  It’s saying, “I don’t believe what you say.  I don’t believe you want what’s best for me.  So I’m going to do things my way.”

But as long as we hold that attitude, we will never enter God’s kingdom.

2.  They are completely dependent, and they know it.  They can’t provide their own food.  They can’t provide their own clothes or any of their needs.  They are completely dependent on their parents to provide these things.  In the same way, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven until we come to the realization of how dependent we are on God.  That there is nothing we can do to buy or earn our salvation.  Rather, we simply rely on his grace and the work Christ did on the Cross.

It’s so easy, it’s hard.  People don’t want to believe it.  They want to think their salvation is something they can work for and earn.  They don’t want to admit that there is simply nothing they can do.

But it comes back to my first point.  They need to learn to trust God completely.  And Jesus said,

The work of God is this:  to believe in the one he has sent.  (John 6:29)

How about you?  Are you coming to God with the heart of a child?

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Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17 — The God of the “insignificant”

As a father, I really love my daughter, but I have to admit there are times when she can be annoying.  Particularly when I’m trying to do something, sometimes important, sometimes not, and she desperately wants my attention.

It’s so easy to just give her only part of my attention.  To say, “Yes, yes, yes” to what she’s saying and quickly brush her off and return to what I’m doing.  Or if I’m feeling particularly impatient, to simply say, “Later.  I’m busy now.”

And that’s exactly what the disciples did in this passage.  Mothers were coming with their babies (some of them undoubtedly crying) or with their young children (most of them who were undoubtedly noisy and making a ruckus), and the disciples quickly got fed up with it, saying, “Get out of here.  Jesus doesn’t have time for all these…kids.”

Jesus’ response was quick and sharp.  It says in Mark,

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  (10:14a)

Indignant.  The dictionary defines it as showing anger at something that is unfair or wrong.  And that was the response of Jesus when he saw his disciples shoving the children away.

He rebuked his disciples saying,

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  (Mark 10:14b)

What can we get from this?  That we don’t dare treat our children, or anyone for that matter, as the disciples did in this story.  As insignificant.  As unimportant.  As not worth our time.  Because when we do, Jesus becomes indignant.  They are his special creation.  They are people that he loved so much that he died for them.

And so are you.  Maybe you feel insignificant.  Cast off.  Rejected.  But when Jesus sees you treated that way, he gets indignant.  He has compassion on you.  He loves you.  And he would never cast you aside as so many others have.

So come to him.  Draw near, knowing that in his eyes you are significant.  You are precious.   And that more than anything else, he wants a relationship with you.

Lord, thank you that you are the God of the “insignificant.”  That though others have brushed me off and cast me aside, you never do.  Lord, may I never see others as insignificant.  May I instead see others through your eyes, and always value them as you do.  Change my heart, and make me like you.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 19:1-12 — Better to be single?

The disciples’ response to Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce is very interesting.  They said,

If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.  (10)

Put another way, “Man, if marriage is really supposed to be for life, it’s better to stay single.  Better to be single, than stuck in a miserable marriage.”

I agree with that in part.  Certainly it is better to be single than to be stuck in a miserable marriage.  But Jesus pointed out that not everyone is wired that way.  He said,

Not everyone can accept this word (that it’s better to be single), but only those to whom it has been given.  For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others — and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  The one who can accept this should accept it.  (11-12)

In short, it takes a certain kind of person who can be content being single.  He said some are born that way (perhaps they have some physical defect that would make marriage a hardship), some are made that way by others (he was talking about being physically made a eunuch which is basically unheard of nowadays, but I think you could include people that have been emotionally scarred in such a way that they have no desire to get married), and others choose to stay single so that they might serve God better (as the apostle Paul did).

And Jesus says that if you can accept being single, that’s fine.

But the sad thing about the way the disciples thought, and many people do today, for that matter, is that they assume that a lifelong marriage is ultimately destined to become a ball and chain.  And it is for that reason that some are unwilling to commit themselves to another in marriage.  But in doing so, they miss out on the lifelong joy of marriage that God intended for us.

Marriage can be a joy.  It doesn’t have to be a miserable ball and chain.  But the key comes down to what you and your spouse decide from the very beginning of your relationship.  Will you commit yourself to maintaining a soft heart to God first, and to your spouse second?

If you maintain a soft heart to God, you will find God often intervening in your fights and bringing peace.  Usually by him telling you or your spouse, “Let it go.  Give in.”  More, he starts showing you how to improve your marriage and make it stronger.  He’ll show you your spouse’s needs and how to meet them.  And he’ll show you how to love them better.

If you maintain a soft heart to your spouse, you start to understand them better.  What makes them tick.  What annoys them.  What brings them joy.  And if you commit yourself to understanding these things, to go out of your way, not only to avoid annoying them, but also to bringing them joy, you will often find themselves reciprocating.  And instead of a miserable marriage, you’ll find a fulfilling one in which you truly become one.

How do you see marriage?  As a ball and chain?  Or as the joy that God intended it to be?

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Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12 — When our spouse is hardened against us

I’ve mentioned before our need as a husband or wife to search our hearts.  To see if there is any way in which we have hardened our hearts to God, or to our spouse.  This is important for any marriage, whether we think it’s healthy or not.

Because if your heart is starting to harden to God or to your spouse, your marriage is in trouble, or very soon will be.

But what happens when our spouse’s heart is starting to harden?  Or has already hardened?  What do we do?

It’s a hard issue to deal with.  And there are only two such cases that are specifically dealt with in scripture.  One is in the case where our partner is involved in adultery.  And not only involved in adultery, but is completely unrepentant.  Jesus specifically says in the Matthew passage, that divorcing that person and marrying another would not be considered adultery in the eyes of God.  Probably, because in the eyes of God, the other person has hardened their heart to the point that the bond has been completely broken.  Your partner has become “one” with another.  The same can be said if you have been divorced, and your ex-partner has since remarried.  In these cases, you are no longer bound to that person.

How about a one-time affair that your partner has repented of?  That is less clear.  Trust broken at that level is difficult to restore.  Not impossible, but very difficult.  That said, if your partner has repented, I do believe that it is God’s will that you stay with your spouse.  It won’t be easy.  And you’ll definitely need the support of others on top of the grace of God.  It will take time, probably much time to restore the trust.  But it can be done.  And if your heart and the heart of your spouse is softened to Him, He can bring healing to your heart and to your marriage.

The apostle Paul brings up another situation in I Corinthian 7.  Namely, abandonment.  He says if your spouse is a non-believer, and they choose to walk away from you, you are not bound to stay married to that person.  They have hardened their heart to you to the point where the bond is broken.  I believe that you could extrapolate that to any case of abandonment, whether your spouse is a believer or not.  If your partner is determined to divorce you, then let them go.

A possible third situation is domestic violence.  In Malachi, God told the people,

Do not break faith with the wife of your youth. (2:15)

God then goes on to say,

I hate divorce…and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment.  (2:16)

Here we see the problem of abandonment, but we also see the problem of violence.  And I think you could make the case that both are instances of breaking faith.  If you are in danger from your spouse, if they are abusing you and they refuse to get help, I don’t think you are bound in that situation to stay with that person.

All this said, before you make any decision, search your heart.  And again, ask, “Is there any way in which I have hardened my heart to my spouse or to God?”  As long as the answer to that question is yes, I think you should put off ideas of divorce.  But if the point comes where you can honestly say that you have totally opened your heart to God and to your spouse, but your spouse has hardened their heart to you, then I think at that point, God will not hold you to that marriage.

God does not command that you divorce your spouse in those instances.  But he does understand and permits it.

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Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12 — When we harden our hearts toward God and our spouse

It’s kind of interesting looking at the gospels and trying to harmonize them sometimes.  I don’t know if I’m harmonizing Matthew and Mark well here, but it’s amusing to look at these passages this way.

Pharisees:  “Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any reason?”

Jesus:  “Don’t you know that when husband and wife get married, the two become one?  What God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Pharisees:  “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus:  “Excuse me?  What did Moses command you?  He commanded you, ‘Thou shalt divorce your wife?'”

Pharisees:  “Well, no.  But he did permit a man to divorce his wife.”

Jesus:  “That’s right.  He permitted it, not commanded it.  And the only reason he permitted it was because your hearts were hard.  But it was not that way from the beginning.”

All humor aside, the issue is very serious.  And in this passage, Jesus lays out why divorce is so common in our day and age.  People harden their hearts against God, and they harden their hearts against their spouse.

How do people harden their hearts against God?  First, they harden their hearts against his teaching against marriage.  That it is to be for life.  That you are to be faithful to your spouse.  That husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church.  That wives are to submit to their husband as the church does to Christ.

Instead, they make all kinds of excuses as to why it’s impossible for them to do so.

“Well, she doesn’t submit to me, so why should I show that kind of love to her?”

“Well he doesn’t show love to me, so why should I submit to him?”

“You just never know about marriage.  Maybe he really isn’t the one, so it’s best to keep your options open in case it doesn’t work out.”

Or during their arguments, God starts speaking to one or both of them saying, “Let it go.  Give in.  It’s not worth fighting about.”  But in their pride or anger, they refuse to heed his voice.

How do people harden their hearts against their spouses?  They fail to listen to each other.

When husbands hear their wives complain they are working too much, they dismiss it without thought, saying, “But we need the money.”

When husbands complain about a lack of intimacy, the wives dismiss it because they are “too tired.”

When wives share with their husbands how their actions or words were hurtful, husbands dismiss their wives as being too sensitive.

This list could go on and on.

The end result?  Divorce.

So many people wonder why their marriages fail.  Some try two or three times, or even more, to get things right, and never do.  The reason?  They’ve never dealt with their heart.  They’ve never learned to soften their hearts to God’s voice and to their spouses.

Are you single?  Are you seeking a spouse?  Then start by searching your heart.  When God speaks to you about your actions now, when he convicts your heart about the way you live, are you listening?  Because when you get married, he will start speaking to you about how you treat your spouse.  But if you’re hardening your heart to God now when he speaks, you’ll take that attitude into your marriage, and if you do, your marriage won’t last long.

Are you married?  Are you frustrated by your spouse?  Start by taking your eyes off of them, and put them on you.  How have you hardened your heart to your spouse?  Let God speak to your heart about the things that you need to do.

Are you divorced and looking for another spouse?  Before you do, ask yourself, how did I harden my spouse in the past?  How did I harden my heart to God?  Because until you address these issues, you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes you committed before.  And the first question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I hardening myself to God and my ex-spouse by not working to reconcile with my ex-spouse?”

What is the state of your heart?

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Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12 — Why divorce hurts so much

Divorce is one of those touchy topics that is difficult to deal with, if only because of the emotions and hurt that is often involved.  But considering the social climate we’re in, in which marriages fall apart at such a high rate, I think that it is vital for us to take a serious look at what Jesus said about marriage and divorce.

The Pharisees came up to Jesus, asking,

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?  (3)

This was a hot topic of the time, much as it is today.  And for some of the Pharisees, they did pretty much believe that it was lawful to get divorced for any reason.  For others, they held a much stricter view that there had to be some kind of sexual sin involved for a divorce to be lawful.

The truth is, many of the Pharisees did get divorced, and as I mentioned before, often times, it was with the intent of marrying another.  They had married, only to meet another woman they desired, but in order to “avoid” the sin of adultery, they simply divorced their wife and married the other woman.  And I believe it was this situation that Jesus was specifically addressing in the Sermon on the Mount, and in these passages here.

He was telling the Pharisees and us, “Even if you don’t technically commit adultery by sleeping with a woman you’re not married to, if you divorce your wife because you’ve found another woman, you are still committing adultery in the eyes of God, whether you marry that second woman or not.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In answer to the Pharisees’ question, Jesus replied,

Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.  (4-6)

Jesus totally bypassed the arguments of the “experts” of the day, and went straight to scripture.  And by doing so, he tells us exactly what marriage was supposed to be.  A union between a man and a woman where they are no longer two separate entities, but one.  The two are “glued” together and become one flesh.

Sometimes people wonder why God says sex is only to be between husband and wife.  The main reason is that there is a joining that occurs during the sexual act.  Not just a physical joining, but an emotional joining as well.  It’s a joining in which the two are glued together as one.

Have you ever used super glue, and gotten your fingers stuck together?  What happens if you forcibly try to pull them apart.  Your skin rips off.  Divorce is the same.  There is no clean break.  Because of the oneness in body and emotion that occurred, it causes a tearing in the soul when two people divorce.  The same is true when two people become sexually intimate outside of marriage.  When the relationship breaks up, there is a tearing of soul that occurs because of the oneness that was shared between them.

And that tearing becomes much more painful the longer the relationship goes on, with all that the couple shares together, not just sexually, but all the experiences they go through together, the good and the bad that pull a couple closer together and make them one.

Jesus is telling us the reason divorce is so bad is because it tears apart a part of our soul.  What was meant to be one forever, a oneness in body, in heart, in soul, is torn apart.  And so he tells us, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Am I saying there can be no healing from divorce?  That there can be no forgiveness?  No.  But I think we need to understand two things.  First, marriage was meant to be forever.  It was how God designed it.  And second, when we get away from God’s design, pain is inevitable.

Why then do so many people get divorced?  We’ll get into that in the next blog.

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Luke 18:9-14 — Remembering our need for grace

It’s amazing how though times change, some things never do.  And in this passage, we see an example of this.  Luke writes,

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.  (9)

This attitude was particularly common among the Pharisees of the day.  The Pharisees had dedicated their lives to keeping every jot and tittle of the word of God.  But in doing so, it led to a spirit of pride, and you see it here.  In Jesus’ story, a Pharisee was praying out loud by himself (perhaps even to himself), saying,

God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.  (11-12)

In other words, “God you are so lucky to have someone like me in your kingdom.  See what a good person I am?  Not like this…tax collector!”

Unfortunately, we see much the same attitude in many Christians today.  Oh, they may claim to live by God’s grace, but their attitude says otherwise.  Because a person who truly lives by God’s grace sees two things very clearly.  Their utter sinfulness and their need for God.

That’s what we see in the tax collector.  Tax collectors in those days were hated because not only were they considered collaborators with the Roman government who had conquered Israel, but because they consistently cheated the people when collecting taxes.  But this tax collector came before God, and beating his chest cried out,

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  (13)

And Jesus said of him,

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  (14)

How about you?  Are you truly living by God’s grace?  I’ve mentioned that people who live by God’s grace see two things clearly, their own sinfulness, and their utter need for God.

What are the characteristics of a person like this?

First, they are humble and grateful for what God has done for them.  There is no room for pride in their hearts.  Pride of their own righteousness.  Pride of their gifts.  Because they realize that the only thing they deserve from God is death.  And yet God showered his grace on them and gave them a life they did not deserve.  And so each day, their hearts are filled with thankfulness.  Not bitterness because others don’t appreciate them.  And certainly not pride for what they’ve “accomplished.”  Thankfulness.

Second, they have a heart that extends the grace they have received to others.  They don’t see themselves as better as others.  Rather they see others as people that need the very same grace that they themselves have received.

There can be no despising of others, when you realize just how wretched you really are.  There can be no looking down on others in judgment when you realize just how much you have been forgiven.  Instead, there is compassion, and a heart that reaches out that others may experience God’s grace as well.

How about you?  Do you truly recognize the need for God’s grace in your life?

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Luke 18:1-8 — Keeping the faith through times of trial

It would be easy from looking at just the first verse to think that Jesus’ point is simply that we should keep praying and not give up when God seems slow to answer.

This is most certainly true, but the type of prayer Jesus is talking about is very specific, and it hearkens back to what he was just talking about, the Last Days.  Days of trial, days of trouble.  And while Jesus promises that we will not be judged for our sins when he comes back, he makes no promises that we won’t go through trial and suffering.  And there will be times when we will suffer through great injustices.  This is particularly true of those who are Christians in the time of the Great Tribulation when Antichrist comes and reigns.

And it is these people that Jesus specifically is talking about.  The Bible makes it clear that those who are Christians will be persecuted, and it would be easy during that time to wonder where God is.  To wonder if he has abandoned us.  To wonder if he still cares.  To wonder if we will ever see justice for the all the persecution we endure.

So Jesus tells a story of a woman who suffered an injustice, and pleaded with a judge to give her justice.  But the judge for a long time refused to listen.  In the end, however, he got so tired because of the woman’s pleas, that he gave in and gave her the justice she asked for.

Jesus is not saying that God is unjust and has to be badgered into giving us justice.  In fact, he’s saying the exact opposite.  He’s saying, “If this unjust judge gave this woman justice because of her incessant pleas, how much more will God who is just give justice to those who are his own?”

You see another picture of this in Revelation 6:9-11.  These saints who were persecuted and killed for Jesus’ sake never found justice during their lifetimes on earth.  But God assured them that justice would soon come.

But it is hard to wait, especially when we are suffering.  And so Jesus asks of us,

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?  (7)

Some of you may be saying, “Well, I’m not going to go through the Great Tribulation.  I’m going to be raptured before then, so I don’t have to worry about that.”

Honestly, I’m not so sure about that.  I think it’s very possible we will have to go through the Tribulation.  But even assuming that we don’t, how strong is your faith?

When you go through hard times, do you start questioning God and his justice?  Do you start asking, “God, where are you?  Do you still love me?  Do you still care?  Why are you letting me go through this?”

Or do you keep coming to God in faith, saying, “I believe in you.  Even through all I’m going through, I will not let you go.  I believe you will eventually bring me justice, if not in this life, then in the life to come.”

When Jesus sees you, does he see a faith that falters?  Or does he see an unshakeable faith?

So as the writer of Hebrews encourages us, let us strengthen our feeble arms and weak knees.  (Hebrews 12:12)  And let us never lose faith in the one who has proven himself to be faithful.


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