There’s a War Out There

Matthew 4

January 4

Deserts are dangerous places! Wild animals, extreme temperatures, lack of water, and don’t forget the devil, the tempter or Satan – he goes by many names – even in our short desert passage in Matthew 4 (vs. 1, 3, 10).

But, dangerous deserts aren’t his only hang-out. He was also spotted in an other-wise perfect garden giving a tantalizing advertisement for forbidden fruit. And, oh the trouble he caused there! The spiraling, echoing repercussions of which we can still feel and see and hear today. The darkness. The evil. The distance from God and His will and His way.

Don’t assume that if you don’t see a crafty red fellow with horns and a spiked tail or a wily talking snake that you are free from temptation and the spiritual battle between good and evil. Paul says it well in Ephesians 6:10-18. I encourage you to read the whole passage, but here I will include verses 11-14a

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then…”

Jesus shows us how to Stand Firm against the devil’s schemes. Adam and Eve show us how to crumble, reject God and His truth, listening instead to Satan’s lies and pursuing selfish gain and ultimately paying the consequences – which lasts for generations to come. Let’s not follow in Adam and Eve’s footprints as they take the serpent’s bait and then try to hide from God in their guilt.

Let’s look again at Jesus’ victorious example in Matthew 4:1-11.

It is interesting that Jesus had just completed a 40 day fast in the desert when Satan appears ready to tempt him with food. Certainly a fast of this length would make you hungry, so at first it seems maybe Jesus will be weakened by his current circumstances. However, keep in mind that a fast is NOT just not eating, an extreme diet plan. It is rather giving up typical food, schedules, conveniences, practices, self to instead focus on seeking God and drawing near to Him. 40 days of seeking God, sacrificing self “needs” to focus on His desires. Jesus’ stomach was empty but his spiritual tank was full up and ready for battle. He was armed with all the ingredients necessary for a successful stand against Satan. Truth. Righteousness. The gospel of peace. Faith to extinguish ALL the flaming arrows of the evil one. Salvation. AND interestingly the only offensive piece of equipment in the armor of God – the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. He was prepared to not just protect himself but he was also prepared to do battle with the forces that wanted to tear him from God and His will. He was armed with Scripture. He knew it well and he knew how to use it to rebuke Satan’s attacks.

That, is what I want. I want to stand firm in victory over Satan because armed with God’s armor and using God’s word has power over evil. I want to know and love and be practiced in God’s word so I can use God’s light from His words to scatter the darkness. And, that is what I want for you, too. Let’s suit up with the armor of God and His Word!

Questions for reflection and discussion

  1. On a scale of 1-10 how aware are you of the spiritual battle being waged right now? In Scott Deane’s class on Daniel and Revelation for Atlanta Bible College, he often said, “What happens in the spiritual world affects what happens in the physical world.” Do you see evidence of this in Scripture? Do you see evidence of this in our world today?
  2. When do you feel weak against evil and Satan’s attempts to pull you from God and His will? When do you feel spiritually strong? How can you make changes to increase the amount of time you feel more spiritually prepared to face the devil’s schemes?
  3. What was Jesus’ message when he began preaching (Matt 4:17)? Where did we hear this before? (Matt 3:2) Do you think we will hear it again in Matthew? Is it a message we still need to hear today?
  4. Who did Jesus call to follow him and fish for men in Matthew 4? What did they give up to follow Jesus? What are you willing to give up in order to have more time and resources to follow Jesus and fish for men? How are your fishing for men skills? How can you develop them more? Who do you know who is currently in darkness and in need of being caught for Jesus? What can you do this week to share Jesus with them?

The Opening Act

Matthew 3

January 3

The prophecies foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament continue in chapter 3, but this time in regards to a man known as John the Baptist. Isaiah prophesied that there would be, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'” (Matthew 3:3, and original thought in Isaiah 40:3). This John is a relative of Jesus, born to Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth. See Luke 1 for more on his family and the events surrounding his own miraculous birth about 6 months before the birth of Jesus. Even as a pre-born baby in his mother’s previously barren and aging womb John reacted with joy at Mary’s greeting when she came to tell Elizabeth about her encounter with the angel Gabriel and the child she would carry. These young men, Jesus and John, have quite a connection. They go way back – not just to their days in utero, but going back 700 years to Isaiah’s prophecy.

John had a job to do. A job that had been waiting for him for 700 years – prepare the way for the Lord. He was the opening act. His job was to prepare the audience. Pump them up. Get the crowd ready to listen to and appreciate and adore the one who would come after him, the one who is greater than he is, the one who is the main act, the show stopper. He got to introduce the crowd to the one who could be their Savior.

John definitely had a way of getting people’s attention. But not in a flashy way at all. I don’t think he would be found in the mega church today. He was the preacher out in the desert. The one wearing weird, worn and outdated clothing and also known for his curious all-natural diet. He wasn’t about gaining popularity points or fitting in. He knew it wasn’t about him. It was about Jesus. And he had a job to do.

His message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). With Jesus’ earthly ministry now ready to start, it was time to make changes. They were closer to God’s kingdom now than they ever had been before. A kingdom needs a king and they were about to get their first look at the king chosen by God to rule His kingdom. But were they ready? No.

Repent of your sins, turn your life around. Stop using your religion as a show to look better than others. Stop relying on your impressive family tree for salvation. Repent of your sins, turn your life around. Start producing good fruit that shows you have changed. Start preparations for the coming judgment day. It’s closer than you think. Repent of your sins, turn your life around. For the Kingdom of heaven and the judgment day that comes with it is closer than you think. Let me introduce you to God’s chosen king – His Son Jesus!

-Marcia Railton

Questions for reflection and discussion

  1. Repentance is not just feeling sorry or regret for doing wrong, but also a commitment and action for change, turning from your sins to do right. In what ways have you sinned and need to repent? What will it look like to turn in the opposite direction and do right? What good fruit is God wanting to see in your life?
  2. Jesus, even though sinless, was baptized by John to set an example for believers. Baptism is a physical act to show your need for repentance and your acceptance of a Savior. Have you been baptized? If so, what does it mean to you? If not, do you have questions about baptism you would like to discuss with a spiritual mentor or pastor?
  3. What was seen and heard at the end of Jesus’ baptism? What do you think Jesus was feeling or thinking at this moment? What do you think God was feeling or thinking at this moment? How do you feel, what do you think, as you envision this scene?
  4. Who has been a John the Baptist for you – someone who helped point the way and introduce you to Jesus? If you know Jesus now, who will you introduce to Jesus?

Fulfilled

Matthew 2

January 2

While I am greatly looking forward to this year’s reading plan, I must say I am a little sad knowing we won’t be in the Old Testament everyday as we were last year. There is a LOT of good stuff in the Old Testament! Thankfully, even our New Testament readings will often take us back to the foundations laid in the Old Testament. My NIV Study Bible notes say that Matthew quotes from various Old Testament authors at least 47 times throughout his book of 28 chapters. He obviously knew his Scriptures well and saw great value in them. Matthew, inspired by God, would use these Old Testament passages wisely to show the connections from the plans God set into motion while working with the patriachs, kings and His chosen people, the Jews in the Old Testament to the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming return of God’s Son the Messiah/Christ/Anointed One/Jesus! It is great fun reading through the Old Testament to find the clues leading to Jesus, and in the New Testament finding the prophecies fulfilled which had been spoken centuries before, pointing all generations and all peoples to this one-of-a-kind king that would show us God’s heart and purpose and plan like it had never been revealed before.

Two weeks ago the children and youth of our church performed a play called “Long Foretold”. It is a Christmas play from the Answers in Genesis organization which included not just the nativity but also many of the prophecies that would begin to see fulfillment with the birth of Jesus. The seed of woman that would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:14-15). All nations shall be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 18:17-18). A child would come (Isaiah 9:6) – born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:13-14). A ruler would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2-5), from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8-10), from the line of David (Isaiah 9:7). Kings from afar will bring gifts and worship (Psalm 72:10-11). Foretold in the Old Testament. Fulfilled in the New Testament. The Scriptures are all about Jesus who is God’s Son and God’s ultimate plan of redemption. God’s Scriptures are perfect in revealing this plan.

But what happens when traditions take over and God’s word is replaced bit by bit with human ideas and misconceptions. Errors occur. Then we get three kings bowing at the manger next to the shepherds. But what does Matthew 2 -the only Biblical account of the magi – say? It does not record how many magi had traveled from the east – only that they brought three gifts. We only know it was more than one but it could have been four, five or a much larger group of magi or wise men, never referred to as kings. We know that these learned men from the East (possibly Persia) saw a new star in the sky and recognized it as a sign that a new king of the Jews was born. They had heard amazing things about this king and wanted to worship and bring gifts and see him for themselves. So they traveled to Jerusalem, straight to the king’s palace, a likely place to find a child king. But King Herod the Great had heard no such news and was in no mood to welcome a child who would take his place. He wants more information so he calls in Jerusalem’s own “wise men” – the chief priests and teachers of the law. They are very familiar with the Scriptures and reveal that the long-awaited Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, a small town near Jerusalem. The magi’s journey continues and now they follow the star directly to the HOUSE and find the CHILD (not the baby in the manger).

While we aren’t told, it is interesting to think about where the wise men from a far away country to the east of Israel would have received this information that a star would signal the birth of a Jewish king that would be like no other. In the play “Long Foretold”, as well as many other sources, a possible link is explored between these wise men from the east and Daniel, the devout Jewish exile who was elevated to the role of lead prefect of the wise men of Babylon (also in the East) about 550 years before the birth of Christ. We know Daniel was faithful in serving and speaking for his God even in a foreign pagan country so it makes sense that he would have passed along Jewish knowledge to the wise men under him. We know Daniel prophesied about the coming Messiah. And we know that SOME information God gave him was to be sealed up and saved for a future time. Perhaps this was information saved for the generation of wise men that would see the star and travel to Jerusalem to welcome the Jewish child king. Perhaps there is yet more information sealed up awaiting the generation of wise men (and women) who will be on earth to welcome the return of this same king with a trumpet blast. Get all of the accurate information you can and act on it! You don’t want to be unprepared when the King comes into town.

-Marcia Railton

Reflection and Discussion Questions -pick and choose
  • How many times in Matthew 2 does Matthew quote or refer to what the prophets had said? What do you think he is trying to tell his readers? As we go through the book of Matthew this month take note of all the times he writes about the prophets and the Old Testament. Can you find at least 47?
  • Do a little research on King Herod the Great. Who was he? What motivated him? What is he known for? His death is recorded in Matthew 2:19, thus making it safe for Mary, Joseph and Jesus to exit out of Egypt and return to the land of Israel (sound familiar from anything in the Old Testament)? What members of Herod’s family will we see later in Matthew?
  • We are not told a lot of information about the magi. But from their actions, what can we learn about them? What characteristics found in the wise men would we be wise for us to work on today?
  • Look up or create your own list of Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and New Testament fulfillments of these prophecies. You can even create a matching game for family devotions or your small group. Why is it important to see the Old Testament connection? Are there some prophecies of Jesus not yet fulfilled? How does that make you feel?

Devotion

Matthew 1

January 1

de·vo·tion | \ di-ˈvō-shən (noun) – 1. a feeling of strong love or loyalty; 2. the use of time, money, energy, etc., for a particular purpose 3. prayer, worship, or other religious activities that are done in private.

So it begins.  A new year, a new beginning! (but in reality, pretty much the same as yesterday, just with a couple minutes more or less daylight than the surrounding days depending on which hemisphere you live in.) As anticipated, we are beginning a new set of readings for this year! Yay! Today it begins with Matthew 1, which goes through the family tree of Jesus through the line of his father, Joseph., and the DM from God about Jesus.  It is a showcase of how God has been devoted to his people, Israel, faithfully moving generation-to-generation, literally or metaphorically, to begin the path of Jesus Christ and the redemption of us who follow Him.  In so doing, God displays his devotion to us; His love, His use of time, and the pouring out of His holy blessing.  Because of this, we should do nothing less than be devoted to Him in the same manner (John 4:19). What does it mean to be devoted to God?  Today, we look at the three definitions for the word devotion to gain a clearer picture of how we can remain faithful, not only to reading God’s word this year, but drawing closer to Him through this daily activity.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. – Matthew 1:24-25

1. A Strong Love or Loyalty – On our very best days, we seek God in every aspect of our day.  We plan alongside Him; we move with Him; and it is because we love Him and desire to do His will.  But then there are other days where we are faithful and devoted to Him, and our flighty human nature begins to tug.  Those days, usually Mondays, we are in a place of love, but not necessarily acting on a response.  We still must find the will to be faithful, true, and loyal, because God is still in these moments forgiving, restoring, healing, and moving us.  Devote yourself to reading the Word of God throughout this year. Hopefully, in this blog. Follow, share, and do His will in this manner and your relationship with Him will grow stronger. 

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. – Matthew 1:17

2. The Use of Time for a Particular Purpose – It is obvious from reading the genealogy in Matthew 1 that God uses time precisely. This may be used as evidence that God had created a family tree from Adam to Second Adam, Jesus, before the creation of the world. He set them apart.  There is no doubt that setting aside time for a particular purpose has its perks.  Christians have been doing it for centuries, coming together at the same time and location to worship God.  In doing this, the weekly life of the family or individual is governed by their meeting as a body of believers, “Sorry, we can’t do that because we have church.”  In the same manner, your individual time of worship and devotion with God should govern each of your days, not simply be the remaining portions.  Set aside time that doesn’t have distractions, doctor’s appointments, or drudgery. This is time only for you and God.

Because Joseph, her husband, was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. – Matthew 1:19-20

3. Religious Activities Done in Private – Joseph wanted to “put away” Mary privately instead of humiliating her in public because he was faithful.  WHAT?!  He was faithful to the law and the customs of His people, which many of us often confuse with the Will of God.  It is also in private that Joseph receives a direct message – God’s will is moving in a much different direction and will change the foundation and fulfillment of the Law.  Being devoted to God is not solely in the public display, although the symbols of baptism and communion are important public, visible representations that acknowledge our walk with Christ.  Before giving us the model prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus discourages us from making our prayer, devotion, and fasting times something that we draw attention to because when we do, we draw attention to ourselves.  It is welcome, and highly encouraged, that you read these devotions alongside someone you know, but it’s not to showcase your devoutness, or to shout in the streets your sufferings for Christ, or to display your streaks.  There will be time to declare your faith and testimony in public, but it is guided by what is done behind the closed doors of those who are devoted.

-Aaron Winnner

QUESTIONS TO PONDER/DISCUSS

you may pick and choose your favorites

  • In this chapter we see several names for the baby born. What names do you find in verses 1, 16, 21, 23, 25 (some are repeated) and what is the significance and meaning of each? Footnotes may be helpful. What will help us remember the importance of these names?
  • Which definition of devotion do you feel you are doing the best with right now? Which one could use a little work? What would your family, friends, neighbors say you are devoted to? Better yet – what would God say you are devoted to?
  • The angel told Joseph in a dream, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” (Matthew 1:20). Think about what God may be wanting you to do today, this week, this month, this year. It might go against your natural tendencies or the customs of the land. It may be something that causes you fear and some anxiety. Pray for the direction and follow-through to step out in devotion to God and be an active part of His plans for redemption.
  • Many people find great benefit from the practice of journaling – often writing down thoughts, questions, feelings, quotes helps them stick a little better. You may enjoy daily writing out a verse from each chapter. You can either write out the verse pictured with each devotion, or when reading through the day’s chapter look for a special verse that you want to write down to take with you through the day.

The link to read today’s chapter, Matthew 1, on BibleGateway.com is now at the top, directly below the title and picture.

And here’s the reading plan for the year to print and mark your progress. Looking forward to Seeking Growing and Loving together with you in 2022! God has good things in store for those who seek Him!

2022 Seek Grow Love

Bible Reading Plan

We are happy to announce a NEW Bible reading plan for SeekGrowLove readers in 2022!

We are going to intentionally slow down and each day focus on just ONE Bible chapter. Through the year we will cover every chapter of the New Testament (reading one gospel in each season) and 105 chapters highlighting the best of the Old Testament, with at least one chapter from each of the books. Much thanks to Bob Jones, Old Testament instructor at Atlanta Bible College, for his invaluable help in selecting the Old Testament chapters we have included.

Print and share the printable reading plan attached below.  Since we are intentionally slowing down and focusing on just one chapter a day it is a great time for new readers (individuals, families, youth groups, Sunday School classes, etc…).  Readers will receive daily email devotions based on that day’s Bible chapter if they sign up as a subscriber at https://seekgrowlove.com/. Seek Grow Love can also be found and liked on facebook to read the devotions there.

An addition this year will be reflection and discussion questions at the end of every devotion which will help us further connect to God and His Scriptures on a personal level. Working through these questions can be very useful for personal contemplation or journaling. Also, they may be used within a mentor relationship or amongst accountability partners. Pray about who God may be prompting you to invite on a journey with you into His Word and His heart. And do you have kids at home – or church kids on your heart? With one chapter a day and discussion questions that can be used during family devotions or by a young person working through God’s word, this is a great opportunity to challenge yourself, your family, your youth class, your accountability partner to SeekGrowLove!

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