Forgiven to Forgive

Matthew 18

One parable that comes up many times when you talk about forgiveness is the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  This parable demonstrates how we should forgive others no matter how big their sin is.  But to understand this parable best, we have to understand to whom Jesus was teaching, why Jesus was teaching this parable, and what happened before Jesus started telling the parable.

Before Jesus taught the parable, Peter asks in Matthew 18:21 “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  To him, it probably felt like he was doing more than he needed to by forgiving others that many times.  But Jesus responded that you should forgive others up to seventy times seven times.

After saying this, Jesus goes into the teaching of the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  The parable starts by telling how the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves.  One of the slaves who had been brought to the king owed him ten thousand talents, which was equal to 20 years of work.  Since the slave could not pay back the money, the king ordered for the slave, his family, and everything he owned to be sold.  The slave pleaded with the king and asked for time to repay everything back to the king.  The king then cancelled the slave’s dept in mercy towards him.

Just like the slave, we are in the debt of God.  The ten thousand talents which the slave could not repay back is like our sins.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Our response to God is to ask for the forgiveness of our sins, just like what the slave did.  Through mercy, God grants us that forgiveness and cancels our sins.

We are like the slave in the beginning of the parable, but we do not want to be like the slave at the end of the parable.  After leaving the king’s presence, the slave finds a fellow slave who owes him a hundred denarii, and demands to be repaid.  One denarius was worth one day’s wage.  The fellow slave pleaded with the slave, asking for time to repay his debt.  The slave, however, did not show mercy to his fellow slave and had him thrown in jail.  Other slaves who were watching this unfold, went and reported to the king what they had just seen.  When the king found out what had happened, he was very angry for he had shown mercy to the slave, but the slave would not show that same mercy to others.  Because the slave had thrown his fellow slave in jail for owing a debt, the king threw the slave in jail for owing him debt.

This parable concludes with Jesus explaining how if we do not forgive others, God will treat us the same way.  We have been shown mercy by God, deserving to be punished but instead were forgiven.  In the same way, we need to show mercy and forgiveness to others who sin against us.  Matthew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  We want that forgiveness from God, and to receive it we must forgive others who sin against us.  If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.  

Saying that we forgive somebody, but not truly forgiving them in your heart, is not real forgiveness.  The forgiveness towards others must come from our hearts to count.  Matthew 18:35 states, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”  In every version that I have looked at, it explicitly states that it must be from your heart.

When forgiveness comes from our hearts, we are forgiving others with no pride or desire for revenge.  If we have pride or a desire for revenge, there is no true repentance or forgiveness.  The slave in the parable did not have true repentance and forgiveness, which caused him to not forgive others.  He had not truly repented, but was glad just to be “off the hook.”

As Ephesians 4:32 says, we need to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving towards others, just as God has forgiven us.

Kaitlyn Hamilton

Kaitlyn, a middle school student from Michigan, has made the most of a wild and crazy 2020 and she is already working on her third time reading through the whole Bible this year. Way to go! Thanks for sharing with us today!

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 18

Tomorrow’s reading will be John 7-8 as we continue on our journey through the Bible. Print your copy of our Bible Reading Plan and hop onboard! Kaitlyn will tell you there is something new to discover every time you read His Word!

Be the Very Last

Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9:28-62

In each of our passages that we read today is the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus had just asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” The Jewish people revered Moses and Elijah as great prophets of God. I believe that this vision was a way to show them that Jesus is even more than a great prophet. To the Jewish people God was always associated with the cloud. In Exodus, He was in the cloud that was leading them through the desert; when He talked to Moses, He appeared in a cloud; when the glory of the Lord was in the tabernacle, it was covered in a cloud, and when they dedicated the temple, the glory of God was associated with a cloud. 1 Kings 8:10 says,”When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.”

The transfiguration is showing them that Jesus is to be more honored than both of these men. Mark 9:7 says, “Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’”  God is telling them, and in essence telling us, to listen to what Jesus is saying. To take his teachings to heart. Jesus is not trying to lift himself up and tout his own glory. He is trying to glorify the Father, and teach others about the kingdom.  Acts 3:22 reads, “For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.” Yes, they had other prophets but they paled in comparison to the Son of God, and we are told to listen to everything that he tells us. We need to make sure that we are reading and closely following what Jesus was teaching them. Today, there is a “Be Kind” movement.  Jesus started that movement years ago, it’s just now catching on. He said to “Love God, and Love others.” Pretty simple and straight forward. The world would be a much better place if we would all listen to the words that Jesus spoke. But we can’t just listen, we also have to act on the words that he said.

Sometimes we, just like the disciples, have a hard time living what Jesus was teaching. It goes against our natural desires, which is to look out for ourselves. Jesus tells them once again about his impending death and resurrection, and he sees them having a conversation. He asks them, even though he knew, what they were disputing about as they walked to Capernaum. They would not answer him, because they had been arguing over who would be the greatest among them. This story always reminds me of one of my children and their first cousin. When they were together, they always wanted to be first at everything. The first to get their food, the first to finish eating, the first in running, etc. So one day I told them, “In the Bible it says, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Then they both decided they wanted to be last, so they would then be first. They may not have learned the true meaning of these words. Mark 9:35 says “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” With these simple words, Jesus has given us a fundamental truth. So many of the world’s problems would be solved if we would take these words to heart. If we would try to make others’ lives better instead of making our life better. If we would become the servant of those around us. Jesus typified this when he washed the disciple’s feet. He could have sat down and demanded that someone wash his feet, because he was the Son of God, but instead he showed true leadership by serving them. With his death he was serving all of mankind so that we would have a chance to share in the kingdom when he comes back as the King of Kings.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9:28-62

Tomorrow’s passage will be Matthew 18 as we continue on our Bible reading plan. It’s not too late to jump on board to learn more and more about this King of Kings!

To Wash or Not to Wash?

Matthew 15 and Mark 7

Well, that was the question the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus: Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat? Good question, most of us would agree it’s a good thing to wash your hands before you eat, and when you return from the marketplace, and several other times of the day. This Jewish delegation (comparable to today’s church leaders) were very curious about Jesus and his followers. They had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee (approximately 70 miles over rough terrain, most likely walking for 2 or more days) to check out this Jesus. They had heard about his many miracles and teachings, and had probably been around long enough to witness some as well. They were watching him closely to decide what they were going to do with this man. And then they saw a problem they could attack: Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash before they ate. It is interesting that Matthew says “your disciples”, Mark says, “some of your disciples”, but it does not say that Jesus didn’t wash – so it doesn’t appear the Pharisees could personally attack Jesus for his own uncleanliness – but what of his disciples? They asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:2 – even with exclamation!)

Jesus quickly flipped the question around – “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:3). And then he gave an example of how they enticed people to break God’s law which said to honor their parents. It appears they were encouraging people to give large showy gifts to God even when it meant they no longer had the means to provide for their aging parents. Jesus shows how the Pharisees had majored in the most minor issues (like pointing out someone’s dirty hands) and left the most important things neglected.

I think of my daycare children and all the potty-training and hand-washing I have taught over the years. I can certainly attest that hand-washing is very important. However, supremely more important is that child’s love for God and others. Imagine a child who is a beast all day long. Fighting with the other children, biting, ripping toys out of their playmates’ hands, yelling at authority, and screaming during lunch time prayer. But, they washed their hands very well before coming to the table. When I give a report to the parents at the end of the day how foolish it would be for me to congratulate them on a child who follows well the rules of man and has clean hands to eat.

Likewise, at the end of the day, we will stand before Judge Jesus. Some will expect to be commended. They did a really great job of following the laws of the land or the traditions of the church, they loved their family, excelled in their business and other man-made expectations. They always washed their hands before they ate. They were good people.

But, that is not what will matter. Jesus will be rewarding those who truly love God and love people – not just in their words but in their actions and sacrifices and daily priorities. Did they keep God’s law first, even when society said they should follow man’s law instead? Did they accept God’s son as the only way to salvation, even when the world said there are many different roads to salvation? Did they carry their cross, even when the world mocked and pointed fingers and threw accusations?

Beware of following the wisdom of this world and the traditions of men. It won’t get you where you want to be in the end. Instead, consider carefully God’s way, every time, and walk in it. In what areas of your life would God have you turn your back on the traditions of men and human rules and expectations to instead dive deeper and deeper into His way – love God, love others, accept Jesus, prepare for the Kingdom.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 15 and Mark 7

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9:18-27 as we continue reading God’s Word.

When Evil Triumphs

Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9:1-17

Each day’s new reading through the gospels brings more “favorites” from the life and teachings of Jesus. So it is with today’s – too many great stories to choose what to write about. Since we will be reading John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 and Walking on the Water tomorrow, we will focus today on Herod, his wife (and former sister-in-law) Herodias, her dancing daughter and the head of John the Baptist.

It is a difficult story to stomach. So much evil. Perhaps we have gotten used to questionable leaders and too much violence, and the familiarity of this short passage on Herod and John the Baptist can make it quick to read and pass over. But imagine knowing these people, living amongst them, and hearing of these events for the first time. Imagine sitting down to your morning cup of coffee, opening the newspaper and reading of the events that transpired just last night.

Of course you would have known King Herod was having his birthday party last night – everyone could hear the sounds from his palace. And, yes, the newspaper calls him King Herod, since that is what he loves to be called, even though everyone knows his dad had been the last King Herod (yes, the one responsible for killing all the baby boys of Bethlehem about 30 years ago). In reality, now Herod Antipas was just a “tetrach”, ruling over just one quarter of his father’s territory, all the while being watched over by the real Roman authorities.

Herod had divorced his wife in order to marry his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. The only trouble was this prophet of God known as John the Baptist had been speaking out against this marriage, saying it was unlawful. Unlawful for who? Who’s law was it anyway? God’s? Herod wasn’t one to try to follow all those outdated laws – it was so much easier to just make new laws instead (similar to today’s society which is very good at ignoring God’s law and replacing it with their own).

His wife, Herodias, was not one to stand idly by while a prophet pointed out the sins of her family. Something had to be done. Herod (prompted by his wife) had John arrested, bound and put in prison. But, that wasn’t enough. While Matthew records that Herod wanted to kill John, Mark has a slightly different interpretation of Herod and perhaps digs a little deeper into his motives, relationships and thoughts. Mark says that it was Herodias who, “nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:19-20) which I am sure made his wife even more livid.

So, we come to the night of Herod’s birthday party and the entertainment for the evening – Herod’s dancing step-daughter (unnamed in the gospels, but Jewish historian Josephus records her name to be Salome). We aren’t told the details (thankfully), but we can guess that this was not a 5 year old girl performing her latest ballet or tap recital pieces for her father’s dinner guests. Whatever the dance included, it seems likely she was being exploited by her mother and ogled (or worse) by her step-father and all his male guests. These men liked her dance so much Herod thought it fitting to offer this dancing wonder anything she wanted (up to half his kingdom).

That’s a lot for a girl to think on – so she goes running out to get her mother’s advice. Herodias is prepared for this moment and she has no trouble involving her “innocent” daughter in getting what she has been waiting for – the death of John the Baptist, in the most gruesome way she could imagine – his head on a platter for her daughter.

Herod is in conflicted agony but sees no way out. The execution is ordered and completed. The head is delivered.

Can you imagine the varying emotions of each and every participant and those who will hear of these events.

What are John’s last thoughts?

Does Salome have nightmares? What does she become?

What do Jesus – and his 12 Disciples feel? If this is what comes of the one who prepares the way of the Messiah, what is the future of the Messiah – of his followers?

Herod will be mentioned just once more in the gospels – when Jesus is arrested, bound and brought before Herod on trial. Jesus remains silent – but quite likely he is remembering Herod and John as well as looking into his future.

Some days it just looks like evil triumphs.

But God is still at work. This is not where the story ends.

Herod will go to war and suffer defeat at the hands of the angry father of his first wife, whom he had divorced to marry Herodias. Later, Herod and Herodias will be sent into exile, where it is recorded Herod dies.

But, that’s not really the end, either.

A resurrection day is coming. A day when John the Baptist will rise from the dead. Can you imagine the reunion he will have with Jesus? I want to see that!

And, a judgment day is coming. Herod and Herodias will appear before the judge. At that time there is only one law that will matter – God’s. And, only one way to salvation – to accept the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some days it looks like evil triumphs – but that’s not how it ends!

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9:1-17

Tomorrow we will read John 6 for another witness of some of today’s events as well as a special teaching on the Bread of Life.

Job Description

Matthew 9 & 10

As we learn more and more about Jesus and find that we are completely astonished by this man, the Son of God – we are left with more questions – what will be my response to him? What must I do to follow him? How do I sign up to be his disciple? What will my job description be as a follower of Christ?

Matthew 9 and 10 give some great guidance for those seeking to follow Jesus. We have the example of Matthew the tax collector who was working hard at his tax collector booth when Jesus came by and said, “Follow me.” That was all it took. No endless paperwork to fill out. No aptitude test – Jesus already knew Matthew’s strengths and weaknesses, as he knows mine and yours – and still he calls – follow me. In order to accept the job, there will be something we must leave behind. It might not be our occupation, as it was for Matthew. It might be our favorite hobby or mindless pastime or those enticing overtime hours. There is simply not enough hours in the day or room in the heart to do everything the world says you deserve to do and effectively follow Christ. A follower will sacrifice, change, give up, adjust schedules.

I am reminded of my dad who never retired from the ministry, but after his kids all grew up, he fulfilled a life-long dream and bought himself a little fishing boat. He loved that little fishing boat, but he loved more his Savior and the people that he worked tirelessly to bring to Jesus – so the boat didn’t get out much.

Which brings us to the second lesson learned from Matthew. As soon as he left behind his tax collector job, he invited Jesus to his house to be his guest – along with all his friends of questionable beliefs, backgrounds, and motives – yes, the “sinners”. You might know a few yourself. Matthew knew his friends and coworkers needed Jesus as much as he did and he took it upon himself to introduce them to one another. When we take on the job of follower of Christ we invite Jesus into our lives, our homes, our family, our circle of friends, neighbors and associates. As Warren Wiersbe says, “God has no secret service” (NT Wiersbe Bible Commentary, p.32). A follower doesn’t cover-up who his boss is. How can you invite your neighbors and coworkers and family to meet Jesus? Take some time to seriously create a list of people you know who would benefit from some time with Jesus (before Jesus returns to judge the earth) and then prayerfully consider how God would have you make the introductions.

When we start really looking at the needs around us – the eternal needs – it is easy to get overwhelmed. Jesus,too, has seen the crowds – like sheep without a shepherd. He instructed his disciples to pray for more workers in the harvest field. We would do well to pray this prayer as well.

A follower isn’t a one man show – rather they have the responsibility (and often joy) of working with others to share the good news. Just as Jesus sent out his disciples to work together (Mark records they went out in pairs), we will find our effectiveness greater when we take the team approach to following Christ. Who are you already working with and who would be a great addition to your current team of Christ followers?

Jesus warns his followers that it won’t be easy – not what you always want to hear at a job interview. But, who wants an easy job? He warns of the opposition his followers will face – from the religious leaders, from the government and even from family. Likewise, we must be prepared to not be swayed or stopped from the task by opposition we face from many fronts. Just as Jesus was persecuted, so will his followers. Expect it and keep working. Jesus says it best, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22 NIV). There may be times you will be tempted to take the easy road, give in, hide Jesus. Don’t do it. Remember Jesus’ promise and warning: “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).

Finally, a follower will love Jesus first and most.

How will you pick up your cross today and be his follower?

Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 9 & 10.

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9:1-17 as we continue learning about Jesus and how to be a follower.

Completely Astonished

Matthew 8:14-34 and Mark 4-5

Jesus – how well do we really know him? It is easy to look at passages like today’s and quickly dismiss them as familiar. Oh, yeah, this is where he talks about the parables of the Kingdom of God for awhile, drives out a bunch of demons (whatever those are), calms the storm and heals some people. He was a pretty cool guy.

Indeed, but if we look at these stories more closely can we learn anything that we might not have caught back in our preschool Sunday School days when we may have first heard these amazing and true stories of the Son of God. I enjoyed reading the Wiersbe NT Bible Commentary that pointed out in these chapters of Mark we see that, “God’s servant, Jesus Christ, is the Master of every situation and the Conqueror of every enemy.” (p101). We see him provide victory over danger (the storm), demons, disease and even death! In a world that still has some very real issues with fear, anxiety and worry (and maybe even demons?) – we would do well to take a closer look at this man Jesus – as well as how people responded to him when they were face-to-face with this one-of-a-kind conquering hero servant.

To help me look at Jesus more deeply, I made a chart of what Jesus DID in these passages – his actions and how he responded to various people (and demons). And, then, as I am also interested in how I ought to respond to Jesus – I included how a broad range of people reacted to Jesus, his teachings and what they personally experienced.

My Jesus column included things like:

Jesus saw – both the crowd and then also individual needs

He touched – Peter’s mother-in-law and Jairus’ daughter

He taught – to the crowd in parables and with further explanations for his followers

He slept – in the boat, through the storm (even though we also know some nights he stayed up praying all night)

He spoke – and the demons obeyed

He went with Jairus

He knew power had gone out from him

He ignored what others said (regarding the girl being dead or asleep)

I love the presence of this man. Not shaken by a storm or by a legion of demons (in the Roman army a legion was a group of 6,000 men) or by sickness or even by the science of death or by those who would argue or laugh at him. He knew what they didn’t. He knew he was the Son of God and God would use him to display God’s greatness and power and compassion and wisdom.

And some people (and demons) of his day would see this – and react in different ways. So, on my chart of how others responded to Jesus I included things like:

Peter’s healed mother-in-law – Got up and began to wait on him

Those who heard of Jesus – Brought demon-possessed and sick to Jesus

Teacher of the law – Vowed to follow Jesus

Disciples – Followed him; amazed at Jesus; still terrified – even AFTER the winds and waves obeyed Jesus; questioned who Jesus was (needed to know!)

Demons – Begged Jesus; recognized Jesus as the Son of the Most High God; and had no choice but to obey him

Those who saw the changed life of the formerly possessed man – Scared of Jesus; pleaded with Jesus to leave the area

The man formerly possessed by “Legion” – Begged Jesus to let him go with Jesus – but followed Jesus’ direction to stay and tell others of what Jesus had done for him

Jairus (synagogue ruler with a very ill 12 year old daughter) – Fell at Jesus’ feet; pleaded earnestly for his sick daughter

Poor, sick, desperate woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and spent all she had on doctors who only made her worse – Found Jesus; secretly touched his clothes, confident this would heal her; when healed and Jesus questioned – she fell at his feet, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth

Mourners – Laughed at Jesus

Jairus’ 12 Year Old Daughter – Raised from the dead and walked around

Saw Jairus’ Daughter Raised – Completely astonished

Even though these events happened 2,000 years ago, there are still those who laugh at Jesus, and those who don’t understand and ask him to leave. I pray our eyes are opened and we spend more and more time, “completely astonished” at what he has done. May we turn to Jesus again and again when we are hurt, scared, fearful, spiritually unhealthy, haunted by demons, and in need of wisdom and hope. May we bring our friends and family to him for healing. May we be active and vocal in serving him and telling of what he has done. And, like the disciples who watched him calm the storm, may we remain a bit terrified at what he can and will do. His reign is not over, in many ways it has not even truly begun. The best is yet to come.

Obviously we can’t take just one passage (of which we still have only brushed the surface) and say we know all there is to know about Jesus. There is still so much more. The things we have already read, like how he told the healed paralyzed man to, “Go and sin no more.” and the stern warnings he had for the ‘holier than thou’ Pharisees. As well as all the exciting things we have yet to read in the coming months and days – washing the feet of his disciples, his prayer for those who will believe, the agony of his crucifixion, the victory of his resurrection, the mystery of his ascension and the completely astonishing coming return of Jesus. Now is the time to get to know him and share him. The best is yet to come!

– Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 8:14-34 and Mark 4-5.

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 9 & 10. Come follow along as we learn more and more about Jesus and how we can respond to him, on our Bible reading plan…

Be a tree!

Matthew 13 & Luke 8

There is something so beautiful about watching a plant grow from a little seed to a strong healthy plant. Christians are compared to plants in this way. A spiritually mature Christian should still continue to grow in their walk with God. 

Jesus often taught the crowds and his disciples using parables, which can be found all throughout the Synoptic Gospels. With seven parables in Matthew chapter 13, the parable of the sower is the only parable in this chapter that doesn’t start with “The Kingdom of heaven is like” because this parable is how the Kingdom of God is going to begin. In fact, it is already happening right now. 

There are four different scenarios of what becomes of the seeds that are sown that Jesus depicts here, being eaten by birds, scorched by the sun, choked by thorns, or producing a crop. Which respectively relate to being taken by the evil one, trouble and persecution, worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth, or yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. Out of four scenarios there is only one that has roots, which leads to salvation. By having the deep roots, a foundation on God and his word, you will bear fruit. Fruit that can show God’s love and share the hope that we have with others and by doing so yield sixty or a hundred times what was sown. 

To go along with the analogy, John 15:1-8 adds on to it and explains the dire need of having deep roots in God and Jesus. 

John 15:5 says, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” 

So how are you going to strengthen your foundation and bear fruits? Be a tree! Three out of the four groups are between a rock and a hard place. So defy the statistics. Commit your life as a living sacrifice for God bearing cherries, apples, bananas, and pears. Put in the effort to focus on your foundation. Make it a priority to spend quality time with God. Paul tells us that fruit will come as a result of our faith, so when they do, nurture them, prune, water, weed, do whatever it takes to help them grow. The parable of the sower shows the importance of how we are living our lives right now. So go, be a tree, rooted in God and overflowing with fruit!

-Makayla Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 13 & Luke 8

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 8:14-34 and Mark 4-5.

The Great Debate

Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Do you know who I would love to see debate in a globally televised event? Jesus and the Pharisees. Sure, Jesus could take on the whole crew of them. For people who had so much in common, they sure were polar opposites.

What did Jesus and the Pharisees have in common? They were from the same family. They could trace their ancestry back to Abraham. They were Jews born at the same time in history. Both Jesus and the Pharisees knew well and deeply appreciated the Old Testament scriptures. They both knew the importance of the coming Messiah the Jews anticipated. They both spoke of how to please God and urged people to follow the way they laid out in order to be saved in the life to come. They had so much in common. Imagine what they could have done together for God’s work – if only the Pharisees hadn’t been so pharisaical.

The Pharisees loved the law of Moses so much (as well as the additions they added to the Law to make themselves look even more saintly) that they were blinded to the true Messiah in front of them. In the end they were much more interested in making themselves look good (and pointing out others’ shortcomings) than in doing what God actually desired – and that is a dangerous place to be.

In today’s reading we come across a few topics that would surely come up in our much anticipated debate between the Pharisees and Jesus.

The Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus’ growing popularity and his displays of God’s power. But, rather than accepting him for who he was showing himself to be – they preferred creating lies and rumors for something they didn’t fully understand. So, when the crowd was amazed at Jesus’ healing of a demon possessed man, the Pharisees tried to explain it away by saying Jesus must be working with Beelzebub, the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24 & Luke 11:15). I don’t think I would take that very well, but Jesus calmly rebuttals that if indeed Satan were working at driving out Satan, his house wouldn’t be standing for long. He goes on to say that from evil you can expect evil, but from good you can expect good – for what is stored up in a man overflows for all to see and hear. And, he reminds them that there is a day coming when all will be judged for “every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36)

But, they fail to realize the wisdom and truth and warnings Jesus spoke. So, the debate topics continue. They notice Jesus didn’t wash his hands before he ate (this definitely sounds like a debate topic that could be used today against a political opponent – times never change). Jesus counters with a truth stinger – the Pharisees spend so much time making sure they look good on the outside, but they neglect the more important work of cleaning up their own greed and wickedness on the inside. They are so busy harping on the itty-bitty showing-off, do-good outside acts (like tithing on the produce from their herb garden) and expecting praise for their goodness – but they completely overlook the weighty matters of justice and God’s love. In trying to make themselves look holy, they have neglected to care for others. And Jesus was telling them that is a dangerous place to be. Judgment will also be coming for today’s Pharisees.

Thankfully, there is another option. Jesus laid it out. Be his family – accept who Jesus is – do the will and work of his Father in heaven – not your own selfish agenda, or what will make you look good in the eyes of today’s twisted Pharisees who try to tell us how to be godly but have totally missed the boat themselves. Draw closer to Jesus than you ever have been before so you can tell the difference between the truth that he offers and the lies of the Pharisees. Your life depends on it – as well as the lives of those who are watching you.

There will be a time coming when the whole world will see and know who is the clear winner of this debate.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 13 and Luke 8 as we continue on our…

Remind Me

Matthew 11

Where is the darkest place you have been? So dark, you were scared to take a step? The most difficult place you’ve been? So difficult, you doubted? When have your dark, difficult, trying circumstances caused you to doubt what you previously knew to be true?

You are not alone. John has been there, too. Sometimes referred to as John the Baptist or the Baptizer for his message of repentance and baptism, John had faithfully worked for years. Known for his simple lifestyle, his ministry was not about him – but about the one who was to come – the Messiah. He had prepared the way for Jesus’ entrance. He had not taken the easy road. He had not backed down from authority. He continually stood for what was right and true – even when it landed him in prison. The ruling Herod didn’t appreciate John pointing out Herod’s many sins.

With his ministry and freedom taken from him, and his future in question, John had a lot of time to think in the darkness of his circumstances. Why? What if…? Was it worth it? Was this supposed to happen? Had he been right? Or wrong? We don’t know all the questions John asked in his prison cell. But, we do know the most important one. The one he needed an answer to. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)

And Jesus answered. Restating the truth that John needed to hear again. Pulling up Old Testament scripture from Isaiah and giving evidence of how his own ministry lined up with what had been foretold: the blind see, the lame walk, the leper is cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the GOOD NEWS is preached to the poor (Matthew 11:5).

In our dark days and when we question what we knew to be true, we would do well to return to Jesus. Tell me again, Jesus. Give me proof of who you are. Read again who he is, what he has done, what he taught, what he did for me. The story of Jesus never gets old, but we do need to be reminded of what we know. And then we have the beautiful opportunity and mandate to tell others of what we have seen and heard.

In the rest of this chapter Jesus demonstrates that following him can be hard. People will criticize everything – our job is not to make people happy. There will be many unrepentant people (and cities) who do not accept the work that Jesus has done for them or the path that Jesus has laid out. Don’t be swayed, know that judgement will come and make sure you are on the right side. Stay close to the one who knows and reveals the Father. Jesus, the Son of God, is the only way. Work with him. Stay attached to Jesus. Take his yoke upon you (Matthew 11:29).

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 11

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 12:22-50 & Luke 11 as we are reminded again of the saving work of Jesus – and how he calls us to be yoked to him.

His Touch

Matthew 8:1-13 & Luke 7- Jesus heals a man with Leprosy

Before we get into today’s story, we need to understand the Old Testament law dealing with leprosy.  Leviticus 13:1-46 talks in great detail about leprosy.  There, we find that leprosy is a skin disease that is more than skin deep, it’s highly infectious, it defiles a person, anyone with leprosy must cover their mouth (this sounds like a mask), be separated from other people (social distance), live outside the town (this sounds like isolation), wear torn clothes, and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!”

In Matthew 8, we find the story of a man with leprosy.  Instead of staying away, we’re told, “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him [Jesus] and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  I believe this man had great faith.  He knew Jesus could heal him, he just didn’t know if Jesus would be willing to.  And he violated the law so he could get close enough to Jesus to find out.

Matthew 8:3 says, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!”  Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.”  I find this very moving.  Jesus demonstrated how much he cared for this man by not just healing him – which was astounding enough.  Jesus also touched him.  By touching the man, Jesus would have become defiled – made unclean himself.  And remember, since no-one could touch a leaper, who knows how long it had been since this man had someone actually touch him.  I can’t imagine what that touch meant to the man.

Matthew 8:4 goes on to say that Jesus told the man, “See that you don’t tell anyone…”  We find this same story in Mark, and we’re told in Mark 1:45, “Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.  As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.  Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”

In this story, I see that leprosy compares well with sin.  Sin runs more than skin deep, it is highly infectious, it defiles a person, and whether we admit it or not, it makes us unclean, and separates us from God.  When Jesus went to the cross, he took our sin on himself, causing him to be defiled.  But he demonstrated his obedience to God and his love for us by doing this anyway.  But Jesus’ sacrifice means nothing for us unless we each have faith in Jesus, come submit before him, and ask to be healed (forgiven).  Are you willing to get close enough to Jesus to find out what he can do for you?

Finally, at the end of the story, the man disobeyed Jesus’ direct command to him to tell no one.  Jesus commanded us to tell everyone.  How are you doing with that?

–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 8:1-13, Luke 7

Tomorrow’s reading will be Matthew 11.