How the Story Ends

Matthew 28

January 28

This week has been rough. My daughter was sick; it’s been snowy and cold; my younger kids are in a “destroy-the-house-and-dad’s-sanity” kind of mood. To top it all off, these have not been easy devotions to write, and probably not easy to read. Judgements and woes, apocalypses and parables, betrayals, regrets and death. 

But that’s not how the story ends. 

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching Jesus Christ Superstar, a musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber, and if you’ve seen the original version, something is striking about the end. It ends with them burying Jesus after the crucifixion. The name of the final song is “John Nineteen:Forty One”, a sweeping and somber orchestral piece. That verse reads : “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” It’s poetic and tragic and sad and moving and compelling. 

But that’s not how the story ends.

Life can be hard. Sometimes it’s our kids or friends having a cold, which today means a “COVID scare”; but sometimes it’s our mom or dad diagnosed with something terminal. Some days are snowy and cold; sometimes a coldness creeps into our souls that shuts out the world around us. Sometimes our physical house is a disaster; sometimes our emotional home, the relationship within the walls, seem broken beyond repair. 

But that’s not how the story ends. 

On the first day of the week, two women who loved and cared for Jesus go to where his body was laid. They know the location, they were there when the door was sealed just days ago. But the body isn’t there. An angel, in the form of a man, says to them “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.” And they are told to go to Galilee, for that’s where they and all the disciples will see him. But before that, he greets them on the road. And he says “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.”

But that’s not how the story ends. 

See, Jesus meets them in Galilee. And he gives them a command. In the Greek, the only command is “make disciples.” That is the commission we are given, given to every Christian since the resurrection until the last moment. Is what you are doing in life making disciples? Jesus says that they should make disciples by going, by baptizing, by teaching them. Those are indispensable parts of the commission. But it doesn’t mean “go on a mission trip and baptize and teach someone over there.” It means “whoever isn’t a disciple, go to them, love them, pray for them, if they accept the message baptize them, and then as they walk beside you in life teach them.” That’s the great commission. 

But that’s not how the story ends. 

Jesus tells them that he will be with you, WITH US, ALWAYS. He says he will not forsake us, even until the end of the age. That means that as long as this world endures, Christ is with us. There will be a day where we may not be alive, and we will sleep, awaiting resurrection. But Christ will bring a new age in. 

But that’s not how the story ends.  

Because the story doesn’t end

Instead, because of the resurrection of Jesus to life, because God has shown with power that Jesus was the genuine article, the real deal, the true Messiah, then when he said that we who believe in him will have eternal life in his name, that is a guarantee we can trust. Those who follow Jesus begin their story now, will begin a new stage in the resurrection, but their story will continue on forever. We will truly be able to write our last chapter as “They lived happily, eternally, ever after.”

And that’s how our stories will start

-Jake Ballard

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Take a moment to think about, journal about, and pray about where you are in your story. Are things really good, and you are connected to your loved ones and God, thriving and growing closer together? Or is your story really difficult to read right now, much less live through? Are you asking the author of our stories to show you how HE reads your story? Would our life look different if we examined it from God’s eye? What would change because of the perspective? What would stay the same? How might this view alleviate your anxiety and worries?
  2. The great commission should fill us with hope and purpose, not shame and guilt. Jesus has died so our sin, guilt, and shame might be nailed to the cross. Jesus is raised to empower his followers to make disciples for the good of the world. How can you start to fulfill the great commission today? Are you ready to change the world through the power of God? Do you believe that God wants and expects you to be radically fulfilling the calling to make disciples, no matter your age, your schooling, your gender, your race, or any other factors?
  3. If you want the true beginning of your story to read “They lived happily, eternally, ever after…”, then will you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior today? Will you repent of sin and trust that he has forgiven them? Will you trust that he will never leave you nor forsake you but will be with you “until the end of the age” and into the age after that?

Betrayal, Regret, Beating, Condemning, Tearing and the Grace of God.

Matthew 27

January 27

Quite a long title, but Matthew 27 is quite a long chapter. So much happens; more than we will have the space to touch on here. 

Betrayal and Regret

Yesterday, we read about the two betrayers of Jesus. I want to finish that story thread. In the first portion of Matthew 27, we see Judas regret betraying Jesus. But Peter also regretted what he did. He went out from the courtyard and wept bitterly. However, it is not in the betrayal that these men were different, but in trusting the grace of God. 

Judas, in an act of cowardice and pain, hung himself. For those of us who have been harmed by a friend or family member taking his or her own life, we all know that the act is coming from a place of pain, hurt, and torment. In some more clear moments, we also see the selfishness of the act, the self-centered-ness of it. I know this is a painful topic, but please hear this with all love and grace : Judas is at his worst in this act. All Judas focuses on is his own pain, his own hurt, his own shame, his own betrayal, and therefore takes his own life. He acts in a way to stop what he did and the consequences acting upon him. Not every suicide is like this, but Judas’s suicide clearly was. His regret cost him everything. 

Peter, on the other hand, does not focus on himself. Peter sees the pain of his master Jesus, the hurt Jesus is enduring, the shame Jesus is feeling, the fact that Jesus is being betrayed. Peter regrets his choice, but he also trusts in the grace of God. That grace is not free. It costs Peter everything, even his own life. But it gives so much more. Grace is Jesus sitting across the fire from Peter after breakfast and saying “Peter, do you love me?” Grace restored Peter to a place of leadership among his brothers. Grace is what led Peter all the days of his life. Grace is what will raise Peter in the last days, and will say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Peter believed, in his worst moment, in the moment of his greatest weakness, that the grace of God could reach him even there. 

Beating and Condemning

It is the grace of God that pushed Jesus to be condemned. The crowds shout for his death, though they cannot even find a compelling case against him even among the liars. The crowds get a prisoner back free for appeasement and they want the insurrectionist Barabbas rather than Rabbi Jesus. Pilate washes his hands of the matter, but he is as guilty as those who claim the blood of Jesus on their heads. 

But we stand in no better place. The blood of Jesus covers our heads. We circle the King enrobed in scarlet, asking him to prophesy and speak who hit him. But he remains silent. But it is the grace of God that he remains silent. He knows that the blood on the heads of the Jews, the blood on the hands of the soldiers, the blood that covers each one of us as we stood condemning him, is the same blood that will wash away their sins. He could call twelve legions of angels to rescue him (Matt. 26:53) but instead he remains silent so that his death might save the world. It is the grace of God that held Jesus to the cross, not the nails, nor the Romans or Jews. Grace.

Tearing the Veil

At the death of Jesus one of the immediate effects was the tearing of the veil. This seems like a minor detail; of course in the midst of darkness, earthquakes, and storms there will be some torn tapestries. But this is not a small thing. This is the veil in the heart of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the temple was the holy place. Inside the holy place, behind the veil, was the holy of holies, where at one point the Ark of the Covenant sat. When the Jews would sacrifice, the priest would go into the Holy Place and sprinkle the blood of the bull before the veil. 

The death of Jesus brings about the end of sacrifices. There is no need to continue to sacrifice and have the blood sprinkled before the veil. The veil is torn. But even more glorious and gracious, the Holy of Holies is no longer kept away from people. The center point of the dwelling of God on the Earth was in the Holy of Holies. But because of Christ, God dwells in us. We, the collective church, have become the temple as we are built together in love. (1 Cor. 3:16, Eph. 2:21) It is by the grace of God that the Veil was torn and the dwelling place of God is now in the hearts of people, just as one day the dwelling of God will be upon the earth. 

In the midst of earthquakes, darkness and storm, some may think it was the terror, or madness, that drove the Roman soldier to say, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

But I don’t. I think it was the grace of God.

-Jake Ballard

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. To be very clear: if you are struggling with mental issues, especially thoughts of suicide, get help today. You are loved, you are cared for, and no one wants you to go that way. During the pandemic, anxiety, depression, and self harm levels have also risen. You are not alone! Your church family and pastor love you, as do your brothers and sisters here on SeekGrowLove. If you do not have a safe person to contact in your family or church, please reach out to the national suicide prevention hotline : 800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org OR you can call or text the crisis text line : https://www.crisistextline.org
  2. There was strain of the devotion today that implied we were guilty of the crucifixion of Jesus. While we weren’t there, and it may not be our ancestors (because guilt isn’t passed from parent to child that way), it is because of our sins that Christ died. Have you ever considered your actions worthy of this kind of ignoble death? Do you recognize that the love of Christ FOR YOU kept him on the cross? Do you see the grace of God FOR YOU that allow his son to be a sacrifice? 
  3. While those questions are difficult, do you also see the grace of God in tearing the veil? Do believe that God himself dwells IN YOU and especially in US as we gather as believers? What amazing grace we see from God in being and becoming his temple. Have you said along with the Roman Centurion by the grace of God, that Jesus truly is the Son of God?

Memes and Remembrances 

Matthew 26

January 26

At this point in our reading, things start to get serious, so before we get into that I’d like to give you this meme for your sharing pleasure. I hope that you can enjoy the humor, because the stories and questions today should give us time to pause and think, to pray, and to trust in the grace of God. 

We start with this meme because of the story in verses 6-13. While there are multiple proposed solutions to how many times Jesus was anointed (see note), at this point I lean to the idea that Jesus was anointed with oil in two different scenarios, the one recorded in Luke, and the one recorded in Matthew, Mark, and John. In Matthew a woman pours very costly perfume on Jesus, and the disciples were livid. “HOW MUCH GOOD COULD WE HAVE DONE WITH THAT MONEY?!” They all berate the woman. But Jesus recognizes the act of utter worship and adoration that this woman desired to give him.

When Jesus said “you always have the poor with you” was he saying that we shouldn’t give to the poor? After all, if we give to the poor person in front of us, won’t there be another the next day, right? For the latter question, yes there will always be another poor person. But for the first question, Jesus was referencing Deuteronomy 15:10-11 “Give generously to him, and do not let your heart be grieved when you do so. And because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything to which you put your hand. For there will never cease to be poor in the land; that is why I am commanding you to open wide your hand to your brother and to the poor and needy in your land.” Jesus wasn’t saying “don’t give” but instead “if you are so concerned about the poor, you will be able to give to them with OTHER gifts.” In fact, Judas was berating the woman because he would have had access to the funds for himself, as he stole money from the group. Maybe other disciples were upset that this woman was showing greater devotion for Jesus than they were willing to show. Jesus is, in effect, calling their bluff : “If you truly want to serve the poor, you’ll be able to do so the rest of your life. She is choosing to serve me now!”

The rest of the chapter is full of familiar stories that we remember during the Season of Lent, Passover and Easter/Resurrection Sunday every year. 

Jesus at this time institutes the act of communion, a time to remember what Christ has done for us. To be fair, Jesus does not begin something new, but changes the focus of something ancient. Passover is a holy Jewish meal that signified God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt. Jesus says it’s no longer just about that. Now, this bread that was about fleeing slavery is about the body broken for us to free us from sin. The wine is now about the blood of Jesus spilt for the forgiveness of our sins. 

Judas decided to betray Jesus and feigns offense when Jesus accuses the disciples there is a betrayer in their midst. Jesus knows what he has decided and is not fooled by his act. But we shouldn’t miss that Peter ALSO betrays Jesus. Judas desired money. Some postulate that Judas was trying to force Jesus and God to bring the Kingdom now. But whatever his motives, the betrayal was still evil and unjustified. But the betrayal of Peter was just as significant and just as thorough. Peter’s betrayal was fueled by self-preservation and fear. Both denied their Lord, their Savior… their friend. 

Jesus is broken hearted by what is happening to him. He knows that the woman who anointed his feet just days before was preparing him for burial, but still he did not want to die. He asks God if he can be spared, not only from the pain of death, but the rejection he is about to receive from God on behalf of all people. Jesus is about to have all sin heaped on him. God is about to cut all ties from his Son, and their connection will be severed so sin can be destroyed. Jesus, in his love for all of us, decided to follow the plan of God. He decides that he will drink the cup of the wrath of God, so that those who trust in Christ will not have to drink that cup themselves. 

While we began with a meme, we need to take time for serious remembrance of what Christ decided to do for us. 

Let us remember the anointing and worship of the woman. 

Let us remember the poor that Jesus calls us to serve. 

Let us remember Jesus by taking communion as we are able. 

Let us remember Peter and Judas so that we may not betray Jesus like they did. 

Let us remember a savior who was willing to die for us, who was willing to take the cup of wrath, and was willing to do the will of God so that we may have grace and peace and life. 

-Jake Ballard

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Are we willing to anoint the feet of Jesus with everything we have? Are you willing to give extravagant worship to Christ that others call outrageous, because you know how you have been forgiven? How deep does your love and worship go?
  2. Go back to yesterday’s question 3 (are you taking care of the least of these?) Ask yourself those questions again. Are you serving the poor, giving to them no matter how many there will be in the land? Or is your heart hardened by the reality of this world? Will you ask God to change your heart and make you love the poor?
  3. Have you participated in the grace of communion recently? The next time you do, take a moment to reflect on the thousands of years that the faithful people of God have celebrated this meal and emblem, first as freedom from slavery in Egypt, and now, through Christ as freedom for slavery from sin. How does it make you feel that you participate in thousands of years of history along with all of God’s people?
  4. In our sin, do we betray the savior who loves us? In what ways can we overcome the sin we have so we do not betray and deny our savior and lord?

Note: For an explanation of multiple ways of interpreting the passages see: https://answersingenesis.org/contradictions-in-the-bible/how-many-times-was-jesus-anointed/ AIG believes there were THREE events, but I think that even that would be a bit of a stretch. 

Parables of the Future

Matthew 25

January 25

In today’s chapter, there are three parables: the Parable of the the Ten Virgins, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. 

It is important to note that parables are earthly stories that teach spiritual truths. Jesus creates images that his hearers would understand, and applies them to spiritual realities. The Parable of the Talents section will go into more detail about interpreting parables.  

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

In the first parable, we see ten women who are waiting to guide a groom to his bride. Five of these virgins were wise and prepared for the coming of the groom by have enough oil to last all through the night. Five were foolish, unprepared, who have to run off and fill up their supply of oil while the groom is on the way. They weren’t ready for the bridegroom and his coming, and they were not allowed in because they were late. 

Obviously, we can see the parallel with our faith. The point made by this story is simple and spelled out for us in verse 13: “Be on alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” We must be prepared for the coming of Christ, ready for his return. 

But what does it mean to be ready for his return?

Parable of the Talents

In the second parable, a master goes on a long journey, and gives talents to his slaves. When we read “talent,” remember that the word HERE means “an amount of money”. A talent is a VERY LARGE amount of money, about 6,000 denarii. A denarius is one days wage. 1 Talent would take a working person 16 years to save. (see note) Five talents, two talents, and one talent are all VAST sums of wealth, and the King gives them to his slaves and entrusts that money into their care according to their abilities. When the master returns, he rewards those who use his wealth to make more, but punishes the one who hides the money away and does not use it. 

Again, we should start to see some connections to our own life. It is important to remember that this is a parable. Jesus is using images from the world around him to teach a spiritual point. The talents given by Jesus, the King, to us, his slaves, are decidedly not always money. There may be people who follow Christ who are dirt poor. Moreover, it should not be considered specific abilities or spiritual gifts. Because this story is a parable, one-to-one relations don’t always work. For example, what is the oil and who are the oil sellers in the parable of the ten virgins? Don’t think too hard on it, because those are silly questions. The parable is about being ready for the return of Christ. I’m making a similar point for this parable: don’t try to define what the talents are (spiritual gifts, or natural abilities, or other) but think of them as the blessings of God in our life generally. And that makes the point clear: We can either use the blessings God has given us to produce more blessings for ourselves and others while risking and sharing, or we can bury our blessings and avoid the risk of interacting with others. 

If you use the talents with which you are gifted, you will receive the reward the master gives. He says to both the one with five talents as well as the one with two : “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (21, 23). Note the words aren’t different, though the blessings are. We are to use our blessings that we have been given. We are not to worry about not having as much as the next person or whether we can see the fruit of them using their blessings. It is for the master to judge them, not another slave.

Finally, Jesus, our master, EXPECTS us, his slaves, to gain on the blessings given. For the slave given one talent, even if the talent was just “put in the bank”, then it would have been better. Instead, the slave played it safe, and is punished for his unfaithfulness. The one who is was unfaithful has their blessings revoked and the blessings were given to the faithful. (Another reason we don’t think of talents as specific spiritual gifts or natural abilities. It seems doubtful that God would take the spiritual gift or natural talent from one and give it to another.)

We need to be ready at all times for the return, and that is by using our blessings to bless others. Jesus puts a fine point on this teaching by saying the final parable of the chapter. 

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

In the final parable, all humanity is imagined as a herd of animals, sheep and goats. The final judgement, that comes at Christ’s return, has him separating sheep and goats. Jesus tells the sheep that they fed, watered, invited, clothed, and visited the great king by doing it for the “least of the brothers of mine.” When we care for other Christians, we are caring for Jesus, the great king Himself. Moreover, many Christians have understood a greater implication. Because Jesus is human, he views all of humanity as brothers and sisters. This is why Paul says in Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Not ONLY believers, but especially believers. It starts in the family and radiates outward. However, the goats did not feed, water, invite, clothe, or visit the great king. When they did not care for their brothers and sisters in Christ and for their human family, they were not caring for the king. 

And what happens to each group is shocking. One is given eternal life, life in the age to come, life that lasts forever because it is in the presence of the One who is Life. And the other is punished, and the punishment, death, will be eternal and final. 

These three stories teach us what it means to be ready for the return of Christ which is promised in chapter 24. To be serving the least of these, both in and out of the family of believers, with any and all blessings that God has given us, actively waiting and expectantly watching for the coming of Christ. It is not staring at the sky while twiddling our thumbs nor is it quietly serving with no Kingdom messages. It is serving the least, blessing them, and sharing with them the Gospel of the Kingdom. That’s the message of the parables.

-Jake Ballard

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Are we the wise or the foolish virgins? Will we be found prepared, without knowing the day or the hour? Will we be running around when he comes, hoping to be found ready?
  2. Are we faithful with the blessings of God we have been given? Are you using the gifts God has given in an effective way?
  3. The sheep seem to be surprised that they were serving the King, and the goats are surprised they weren’t serving him. Are you taking care of the least, the last, the little and the lost? When have you fed or given water to the poorest in your community? When have you given clothes to those who have none or invited them into your homes? It is tempting to say “I give to charities that do that” but Jesus won’t be asking the charity if THEY cared for the least of these, he will be asking you and me. Will we be in surprise that we served or in surprise that we did not?

Note: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/HarperCollinsBibleDictionary/t/talent

Consumed with the Vision

Matthew 24

January 24

Do you know someone who had a quote or a phrase that they said so often that you can hear it in their voice? Maybe it’s Jerry Seinfeld’s “What’s the deal with…” or you can see a cute electric mouse and hear “pika-pi”. I think most people at Timberland Bible Church can hear these words in my voice : “That’s good news! That’s gospel message! That’ll preach! Can I get an amen?!”

I bring up this aural phenomenon because it happened to me while reading Matthew 24. Every time I read Matthew 24:14, I am transported back to my grandparent’s house. I am sitting at the kitchen table, and James Mattison, who I knew as Papa Jim, is telling me about his ministry in Africa. I had asked, “Why did you go?” right before we ate lunch. And he opened his worn down Bible, though he quoted the verse by heart. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” I can hear and see him, but I can also feel him : I still see his composure brimming with energy, I can still hear his confidence tempered with humility, but I FEEL his burning conviction. It was not someone else’s duty to speak this gospel to the world. It was his. Malawi, Mozambique, Africa needed the gospel of the kingdom of God to be preached to them. It was imperative, and Papa Jim knew it was his imperative.

James Mattison was consumed by the vision of Matthew 24. He knew it inside out and backwards. But most of all, he knew what it entails. Lots of Matthew 24 is worrisome. Things look bleak, destruction is coming, the end is scary. But that isn’t what Jim was focused on. Primarily he knew that the end had to come so that the perfection of the Kingdom could come.  He also saw in this teaching commands, commands that I want you to see. He was consumed by three truths of Matthew 24. 

  1. No matter what comes at the end, there is given to the faithful the strength to endure it all. Jesus says the one who endures (in Revelation, the parallel phrase is “the one who conquers”) will be saved. (24:13) But that enduring is not merely hanging on. 
  2. In verses 42-51, Jesus declares that he will return like a thief in the night, like a master on a long journey. The ready and alert won’t be caught off guard, and therefore they will keep doing what the master has commanded them. 
  3. And what Jesus has commanded each of us is to preach the gospel of the Kingdom. Technically, in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands us to make disciples (more on that later), but part of that is to teach people to follow the commands of Jesus. Preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and teaching all Jesus commanded us is the call for Christians. Let us continue so that the master might find us working. 

You may not be called to Africa and in fact most of you AREN’T. You are called to where you are. To endure, to be ready, you need to be consumed by the vision that we see in Matthew 24. Will you listen to the call of Jesus, and tell others the gospel of the Kingdom?

-Jake Ballard

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Are you consumed by the vision of Matthew 24? James Mattison believed it was his imperative to preach the gospel to the world, especially Eastern Africa; to where are you called? Are you listening for the call of Jesus at all, and if you are telling others of your faith, do you tell them about the gospel of the Kingdom?
  2. Do you feel like you have been skimming by, enduring, or conquering the last year? Do you feel like you AREN’T enduring or conquering? How can you be empowered?

The Anger of a Gentle Man

Matthew 23

January 23

I’ve heard a quote from an author of fiction. In The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss writes “There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.” While we could think about every point, the one most important to the author, and for our reading today, is the last one : what does it look like to kindle the anger of  a gentle man?

Jesus was a man of gentleness.(Matthew 11:29) He did not “break a battered reed” or “extinguish a smoldering wick”(Matthew 12:20), meaning he was careful to not be aggressive in his movements and actions. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as sheep are silent so was he. (Acts 8:32) But, we must never assume that Jesus was timid. The same man who accepted his sacrifice as the plan of God(Matthew 26:39) and who felt the lost-ness of the people in his gut (Matthew 9:36) is also the man who turned over the tables (Matthew 21:12) and called out the Pharisees like we see today. 

Why did Jesus rail against the scribes and the Pharisees in the way he did? It is interesting to note it is not about theological disagreement. If you compare Jesus’s teaching to the teachings of the Pharisees, they are similar on most counts. It’s not about what they say, but about what they do… or rather, what they fail to do. They claim that to be righteous, holy, dedicated, people must behave in specific ways. However, they then do not help people meet those demands. Jesus tells a healed man to take his mat and go home; instead of praising God for the miraculous healing, the Pharisees complained the man was carrying his mat! They were so focused on the letter of the law, and keeping it so that they would be seen as holy, that they were unable to see the Holy One who was in their midst.

Because of their hypocrisy, their “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” mentality, Jesus pronounces seven or eight woes upon them (the second woe, “devour widows houses” is not in the earliest manuscripts). Jesus is angry enough at their actions to ask God to bring a curse upon them; that is what these woes are. They block people from the kingdom, they attack the weakest in society, they convert people not to truth but to their own misconception of God and scripture, they twist the words of promises and vows, they focus on the minutiae of law keeping while ignoring mercy and justice, they strive to look holy while not BEING holy, they claim they would have listened to the prophets while plotting to kill God’s greatest prophet, Jesus.

WHAT ANGER! You can feel the white hot accusations that Jesus rails against these men. He does not treat the woman caught in adultery, or the sinner at the well, or the demon-possessed, or Zacchaeus this way. Jesus says “go and sin no more”, he says “I, who speak to you, am he [the Messiah]”, his presence demands that demons flee and that Zacchaeus give back what he has stolen. But we don’t see his anger on the people, because they recognize that they are broken sinners. The scribes and Pharisees are committing the greatest sins, because while being blind to the light of the world, they claim that they see. 

Jesus’s anger is replaced with sorry in verses 37-39. Can you hear him cry out, lamenting over the people who are currently rejecting him? How often I wanted to gather you in! How I longed for you. But you were unwilling! Jesus knows that he does not have long left. He knows the ultimate rejection is coming and is venting his final words towards the city and its leaders before he is killed for the sins of the world. He is *the* man of gentleness, showing anger to those who harm the faith and obedience of others. 

-Jake Ballard

Questions for Reflection or Discussion

  1. When you picture Jesus, who do you picture? A kind teacher, expressing words of care? A strong Lord, decreeing his will to his followers? A fiery prophet, defending faith and expressing woe to those who disobey God? In what ways would your faith life be different if one of these images were lacking, or one placed above the truth of the other two?
  2. Should we assume Jesus only speaks this way to the hypocrites of his day? In what ways might you and I be hypocritical? Is Jesus shouting at us to wake us up and have us change our ways before it is too late?
  3. If you do not have a relationship with Jesus, I warn you that this gentle Lamb will one day come as the Roaring Lion, the Carpenter of Nazareth will come as the King of creation. Are you ready for the wrath of God displayed in the return of Christ to judge those who sin on the earth? (Revelation 19:15) If you are not, what can you do today to take the next step to make Jesus both your savior and your lord?

*Note: Jake Ballard has never read The Wise Man’s Fear or any other book by Patrick Rothfuss. Neither Jake nor Seek-Grow-Love condone any other part of his work or works or the views expressed therein. 

This one is tricky, sort of.

Matthew 22

January 22

Like the parable of the tenants from the previous chapter, the parable of the wedding banquet illustrates how God has and continues to call out to His people. Yet time after time they reject Him with many of His prophets dying at the hands of the Israelites. This is a bit of foreshadowing on Jesus’ part as the Jewish leaders would soon call for his death.

Although Jesus was speaking to the people of his own day and their situations, verses 11-14 could just as easily be directed at our current age. A fine dining restaurant today will provide the loan of a suit jacket during the meal and the king would have provided the loan of the required garments for his banquet. The man not accepting the clothes and refusing to answer the king are deliberate acts. Here we see, in parable form, a man standing boldly defiant before God. How often do we see people doing this same thing today?

As difficult as that is, what we find after the parable is where it gets really tricky, or rather where they get tricky. The Jewish leaders were constantly trying to trip up Jesus, to find some flaw or inconsistency in what he taught. Naturally, they failed every time.

A major issue that they had with Jesus as the Messiah and why they did not accept him as such goes back to their expectations. The Messiah was supposed to be this mighty king who would save them all from the oppression of the worldly rulers. They expected a return to the earthly kingdom of Israel while God’s plan for Jesus was to establish His heavenly kingdom here on earth.

Their question about paying taxes was a challenge to his supposed authority. It was kind of a, “If you are the king then we should be able to tell Caesar to take a hike.” How Jesus responded was probably the last thing they expected. It says that they were “amazed” and we might think, “Wow!” but it is just as likely that it was a disbelief, shaking of their head as they walked away.

There are a number of Scriptures that tell us that God sets each ruler in place for His purposes. Jesus makes clear that we give to the worldly rulers what is due to them – the material things that are of the world and will decay and be gone. He then says to give to, “God what is God’s.” What is God’s? Everything! Specifically? Our love, adoration, praise, worship, attention, focus, our faith, our very life. These things, what is God’s, will endure. These things matter.

Then a group that did not believe in resurrection tried to trick Jesus concerning marriage. It says that they were astonished by his answer. I think about them standing completely speechless with their mouths hanging open. What really prompted that reaction was his description of God, quoting from Exodus 3:6, “I am the God…” and the revelation that “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” By adding that Jesus reminded them that God did not speak in past tense but in the present. He did not say, “I was.” This points to the resurrection, to new life.

The rivals to this group were probably very pleased to see them stupefied and stepped in with their own question. “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy and Leviticus to beautifully sum up all of the Law. “Love the Lord your God” – the first four of the Ten Commandments are about our relationship with God. “Love you neighbor” the remaining six commandments are about our relationship with one another.

Each time they tried to trick Jesus, they failed. Jesus responds to every inquiry and deception with Scripture and they are said to be astonished, amazed, and in awe. Then it is Jesus’ turn. He asks whose son the Messiah is. Knowing that the Messiah would come from the line of David it is a no-brainer to say David. Jesus then reminds them of Psalm 110:1, “The LORD said to my Lord.” LORD is God – Yahweh who is speaking to David’s Lord, or one greater than David and not his son. This points to Jesus as the Son of God which shuts their mouths once and for all, “No one dared to ask him any more questions.”

Trickery is the weapon of the devil. It is used to cause doubts to rise. Trickery makes us question what we know and believe. We are bombarded constantly with misinformation and attempts to shift reality to fit feelings and desire. Jesus faced these same challenges and responded confidently with the truth contained in the Word of God. I pray that we all follow his example.

-Jeff Ransom

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. The best way to avoid bad situations is knowing how to recognize them. What subtle ways do you see people, corporations, etc. standing defiantly before God? The ungodly may use what points to God to deceive people. What evidence of this have you seen?
  2. Remember that God places all authorities in place; from our parents, teachers, supervisors, politicians, etc. What are some things that we ought to give back to these authorities? I already mentioned what is God’s but what does that look like in your own life?
  3. The truth in God’s Word, as I mentioned, is vital to staying true to God and not being deceived. What are some other ways that you can be prepared to defend against the trickery of the world? And remember to always temper your discernment with love.

Not Fair!

Matthew 20

January 20

That is not fair!

Have you ever found yourself saying this very same thing? A coworker or classmate does not seem to be doing their share of the work but they get the same pay or grade as you, maybe even better. Maybe you say it when nothing seems to be going your way; car troubles, relationships fractured, bad grades, your sanity cracking. We all experience situations that make us want to scream at what we perceive as an unjust life.

But what makes one thing fair and another unfair?

In Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard, everyone was paid the same. Is that not fair? The first workers agreed to a set amount, reasonable pay for a day’s labor. The other workers only agreed to work for what was right. They left it to the discretion of the landowner. In his generosity the most recent hires received what he had promised the original workers. Those who were hired first said nothing as the landowner began to dole out the money. Because of his generosity towards the newer workers, they expected more.

And that is the key concept that strains so many aspects of our life; what we expect. Our expectations make it difficult sometimes to see God answering our prayers or His hand actively working in our lives. Our expectations may set us up for failure in our schools, our jobs, our relationships with one another, and certainly in our relationship with God through Jesus. If our expectations are not met then, “I guess I did not really need to learn that,” “It will not matter in the ‘real’ world,” “I will just find a new job,” “I do not need anyone else.”

Our expectations, our limited understanding of all that is makes us think that God must have failed to answer our prayers, He is not here with us, He does not care. The reality is that could not be farther from the truth! God loves us all! He is with us in every moment but rarely how we would expect.

This parable has a double lesson to teach. The first is that God is just. God alone rightly discerns what is fair and unfair. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). If we truly want life to be fair, we would all be dead the first time that we sinned. If that were the case, I doubt that humanity would exist and we would not even be here to debate the fairness of life.

God’s justice is tempered by His abundant love. In His love for us He is merciful and forgiving. Those who come to God through Jesus, will all receive the same wage when the days are done: eternal life and citizenship in God’s Kingdom, to be called His children!

This message is reiterated as Jesus addresses the request of James and John’s mother. They have an expectation of their place in God’s Kingdom and their mother wants assurance that it will be so; after all they were among the first disciples to be called by Jesus. Jesus answered this question through the parable before it could even be asked, and still it was asked.

The second lesson to learn from the parable takes us to Matthew 9:35-38 and 28:18-20. We are the workers, called to go out into all of the world and make disciples of all the nations. We have been given a task, a responsibility, a privilege to live our life for God and preach the Good News of His Coming Kingdom so that everyone would have the opportunity to choose to come to Him through Jesus, our savior!

This is not easy but it is immensely satisfying. What we do and say here in this age can open people’s eyes to see the glorious future our amazing God has planned for all who enter His vineyard. We may never give the physically blind back their sight but thanks to God’s love and power we can heal the spiritual blindness of those we encounter each day. Rely on God’s power, His plan, and His will. Trust in Him with all of your heart, soul, and mind and rejoice in knowing that the God of all creation will wipe away your tears and call you son or daughter!

-Jeff Ransom


Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What are your expectations of God as you pray? Do you have a preconceived notion of what an answered prayer looks like? Can you think of times when you missed His answer initially only to see it later on?
  2. Do you see circumstances in your life as being unfair? Think about how they might be helping you to grow stronger in your relationship with others and especially with God through Jesus. It is difficult sometimes but how can you turn your view of these circumstances around? Our response to situations is often more powerful than the situation itself.
  3. What does your work within the vineyard look like? How are you working to spread the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus and the Coming Kingdom of God? Is there someone specific that you can think of who is blind to God’s love? How can you help them to finally see?

How to Get Eternal Life

Matthew 19

January 19

“And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”(Matt.19:26)

This is a verse we hear as encouragement incredibly often. From hearing someone reference it, to seeing it posted on social media. But until recently, I hadn’t dug into the meaning behind this verse. 

This verse comes from the story of the rich young ruler- a story I had heard before, but never knew it’s correlation to Matt. 19:26. A young man approached Jesus and asked him what he must do to be saved. Jesus responds with, “Keep the Commandments”. After this, he asked Jesus which ones are the most important and Jesus responds with, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother and you shall love your neighbor as yourself”(Matt.19:18, 19)

The man says he’s done all these things but he is still lacking, and asks what he must do, and Jesus responds to him by saying, “Give up your wealth.”

The man is much grieved by this, and Jesus tell his disciples that it is nearly impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom. They ask, “Then how can one enter?”  To which Jesus responded,

  “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

I believe this deeper understanding in context gives the verse a completely different connotation. It is that we are sinners, we are broken , and we are not worthy of the kingdom; but with God, and his amazing glory, we may enter.

-Julia Simon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How does wealth and material possessions get in the way of our relationship with God and even our salvation, or entrance into eternal life? What did the rich young ruler love most? What does Jesus say we ought to love? (in this passage and any others)
  2. Besides wealth and things money buys, what else can get in the way? Is there anything you are holding onto too tightly, making it more important to you than entering the Kingdom of God?
  3. What is impossible for people? Does this mean we should give up and not try to follow the commandments? What is possible for God? Does this mean everyone will enter eternal life regardless of what they have loved? Why or why not?
  4. The disciples had given up much to follow Jesus and Jesus said they would be rewarded. What have you already given up? What might God be asking you to give up?

Like a Child

Matthew 18

January 18

Sometimes, looking at today’s world it is apparent that people work so hard to gain acceptance, money, and higher position in jobs or in social groups.

I have experienced this when I was younger in middle school and high school. Let’s be honest, when we were all young teens, we all strived to achieve something like this. Whether that be within sports, a club, or our friend group. I have seen this today as an adult. We all want to have a good job, get good pay, and have a great reputation. We all want to grow up and be great in this world, to have our name remembered by society.

But look even further back. Look back to when we were young children. Young kids playing on the playground, digging in the dirt, or catching butterflies. That is what God wants us to be like still! Not that he wants us to dig in the dirt and catch butterflies, but he wants us to live life care free. He wants us to live life to the fullest, to have an almost childlike faith, full of wonder and love!

This weekend I had attended Refuel as a young adult and I experienced this concept. During our recreational time we went out to the lake behind Sarah Major where we had our worship sessions. I was out there with a few friends and we were just in awe of the beauty of the ice on the lake. We sat by the lake while talking and laughing, but it felt like we were children again reveling at the beauty of God’s amazing work. This is how life should feel everyday. It should feel exciting, beautiful, and full of love.

When Jesus’s disciples asked him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, they were asking him about how they would be viewed in the kingdom. They wanted to know what positions they would have in the kingdom. Jesus responded saying, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3).

Jesus did not come to set up a political order, or put anyone first. He came to suffer and die for our sins because of his love for us.

To be like a child is not about being mature, and wise. To be a child is to know that we are not in control of our own lives. To be a child in Jesus’s eyes is to depend on him and receive everything through him and his Father.

So, the greatest is to be the one who is a child. To be humble, aware that we all lack power, and depend on God to provide what we need. Love one another and live as children loved by God.

-Hannah Eldred

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Is there a place in your life where you are trying to control your circumstances? What is it, and have you talked to God about it? How can you let go of that thing or circumstance? How might humility play a part?
  2. What is your favorite memory from your childhood? Focus on that throughout the day and remember what it was like back then. Are there any qualities you had back then which Jesus would commend that you have since “grown-out-of”? How can you bring some of that back?
  3. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep Jesus shows the Father’s love and concern for the little lost sheep that has strayed from the shepherd’s care. Who do you know who has strayed and how can you pursue them with God’s love this week?
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