Who’s Your Daddy?

Luke 3

Saturday, December 10, 2022

In today’s reading, the last portion has a major theme : “the son of.” The author guides us from Jesus all the way back to the earliest days of history with “the son of Adam, the son of God.” The names and numbers of generations here differ from the names and numbers in Matthew 1. It seems Matthew was proving a point about the care and concern of God. Luke is being historically accurate. But this really isn’t the point. What’s interesting about Luke 3 is that this theme doesn’t begin in verse 23. Instead, it begins in verse 2, and grows throughout the passage. 

John is the son of Zechariah. (V.2) We all know this. Why does the author repeat it? Because we need to have sons in mind. We know who John’s parents are and where he comes from. In preaching a baptism of repentance, John is calling for a radical life change. A change in both action and status. More on that in a moment. 

In verse 7, John says to his listeners “you brood of vipers.” That is a claim of THEIR parentage, and not a nice one. They were “sons of snakes.” For those who desire to follow John, he calls us to account in how they live. Moreover, John basically explains that he isn’t talking about our physical, biological parents. Having Abraham as your biological ancestor, no matter how good Abraham was, does not mean that a person can escape condemnation. Instead, there needs to be a change in every person’s life. It seems our parentage is determined by how we share our abundance with the less fortunate. Who our “fathers” are is determined by whether we play fairly, by the rules of life and the laws of the land and by finding contentment in our lives. 

In verse 21, Jesus goes to “fulfill all righteousness” by being baptized. In that moment, the Holy Spirit descends and a cloud says “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

A couple thoughts to pull you through the day :

  • Jesus is a real man, with a real family, a real history, who lived in a real time and place. A bunch of names (like at the beginning of the chapter) and a genealogy (like at the end) shouldn’t make us glaze over, but perk up. Luke isn’t trying to confuse his audience. He is situating this story in time and place. This is decidedly not the fairy tale “once upon a time” but something much more like “December 8th, 7pm, in Granger, IN, at Jake’s home, while he types in his pajamas.” These names should ground the story in the real world more. 
  • John calls out his hearers and says “Don’t trust in your parentage.” For me, that hits home. I had believing grandparents on both sides, and a mom and dad who raised me in the church and encouraged me to love God. I can’t ride their coattails. It’s not about what they did, but what I do. But maybe, John’s warning for you could be a word of comfort: nothing that came before holds you back. Did your family not pass on morals, or pass on morals that were detrimental? Did you not know the state of your parents’ souls because you didn’t really know your parents? Do you love your parents but couldn’t imagine living the way they do? Then you are not bound to be like them. We are all called to cast aside our parentage as a source of confidence or weakness, and come before God as ourselves. 
  • John talks about repentance and changing our actions. When we do so, we no longer have snakes for parents. But who is our parent then? I think the hope is what we are introduced to in John 1:12-13 “12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Those who believe in the name of Jesus are able to call God their father. John’s talk of righteousness must be understood in light of Jesus. You are a sinner saved only by grace, and you cannot save yourself. But if you trust in the name of Jesus, you can be saved. This Christmas season, we are reminded of the great and awesome gift of Jesus the Messiah. Do you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior? If you have, then in response to HIM making you a child of God, you can and must live a righteous life. 
  • In some sense, every human is a children of God. If Adam is “the father of us all”, and he is “the son of God” we are in a sense, children of God. This however, does not mean that every person is saved. If we live like children of the devil, we truly are children of the devil. These are not my words, but the words of Jesus in John 8. This does truly mean that when we hear the statements this time of year about the “brotherhood of man” and “we are all one”, those statements are true. Instead of filling us with warm fuzzies, let it move us to speak to our brothers and sisters about salvation from dead actions, harm and pain to love, grace and hope that can only be found in Christ Jesus. 

May you today, see the reality of Jesus in this Christmas time. 

May you let go of familial pride or shame and come to God only and forever through Jesus. 

May you become what you were meant to be, a son or daughter of God through righteous action and salvation in Jesus, and may you share your salvation with the world. 

So for one final time this season from me :

Merry Christmas!

– Jake Ballard

Jake Ballard is pastor at Timberland Bible Church. If you’d like to hear more from him, you can find Timberland on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TimberlandBibleChurch/ ) and on Instagram (https://instagram.com/timberlandbiblechurch?igshid=t52xoq9esc7e). The church streams the Worship Gathering every Sunday at 10:30. Besides studying and teaching God’s word, he is raising three beautiful children with the love of his life, loves Christmas, Harry Potter, Christmas, Board Games, and Christmas. He is also going to be teaching New Testament Survey II, which is available from Atlanta Bible College with their ABC4U program (https://www.atlantabiblecollege.com). If you’d like to reach out to talk Bible, talk faith, or talk about your favorite Christmas Song (and why Mariah Carey sings it), look Jacob Ballard up on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jacob.ballard.336 ) or email him at jakea.ballard@yahoo.com
God bless you all!

Reflection Questions

  1. What do you think John may have learned from his father Zechariah, whom we met back in Luke 1?
  2. Look again at John’s message in Luke 3, what do you think he might tell you if you asked him the same question the crowd, tax collectors and soldiers asked, “What shall we do?”
  3. Do you see yourself as a child of God? Why or why not? What does it mean to be a child of God? What privileges and responsibilities come with the position?

Unexpected Moments

Luke 2

Friday, December 9, 2022

Sheep are stinky. 

Consequently, shepherds stink. 

Tending sheep, especially overnight, was a pretty thankless job, and took a toll on a lot of those who did it. Shepherds were not very well thought of by those who had more respectable agrarian jobs, or those who worked in the city. 

But God chose them to be the first ones to know the messiah is born. They saw him in the manger after the angels made their Christmas announcement!

Old people who spend their days alone can sometimes be weird. 

In fact, some of the best people are the old weird people who spend most of their time in prayer to God. The family of Jesus are accosted when they take him to be consecrated on the eighth day. Simeon and Anna may have been well respected, but they were still both older, and both a little weird. 

But God chose them to be among the first to share the message of the Messiah. They spoke the message, Simeon ready for death, knowing the Messiah had come!

The story of Jesus is full of unexpected moments like this. You didn’t see shepherds shouting out with joy, speaking to all who would listen. You didn’t see Simeon and Anna stopping families to talk on the way to the temple. You didn’t see a twelve year old boy going toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow with the religious scholars of the day. 

But God chose these moments, these people, these places, to give us a clue that in the rest of Luke we’re going to see unexpected moments. 

With the familiarity of the passage at Christmas, it may seem common place. But as you read Luke 2 today, remind yourself again just how radical *and strange* the birth of Christ was. May you find comfort in the fact that no matter if you are

Old

Young

Weird

Normal

Or even stinky

God is choosing you to believe in Christ this Christmas. It is up to you to choose to believe. 

-Jake Ballard

Reflection Questions

  1. What do you find most surprising in Luke 2?
  2. Do you believe in Christ? How will that change your day, season and life?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Luke 1

Thursday, December 8, 2022

I love Christmas. 

Does that really need an explanation? What’s not to love about a time of year where we get to celebrate Jesus? Celebrate the Messiah who is and brings us hope, peace, joy, and love? Celebrate with cookies and pies and presents and parties? It is a joyous time of year, both for the cultural wrappings and baggage, (which is fine*!) but also for the Church traditions, teachings, giving, serving, and singing! 

The story of the birth of Christ, however, doesn’t begin in the Hill Country of Judea, as much as Linus from  A Charlie Brown Christmas would have you believe. Instead, Luke, author of the most chronologically accurate account of the life of Christ**, brings us farther back than Matthew, and tells us about the announcements of coming births of John and Jesus to their respective mothers. 

To be fair, today’s reading is 80 verses long! That’s long! I want to give you rapid fire thoughts and questions as the devotion for today:

Theophilus means in Greek “Friend of God.” While there may have been a person who commissioned the work from Luke, it could also be a title. Are you the friend of God to whom Luke is writing? Do you need to hear an accurate, orderly account of the life of Jesus to know with certainty the things you have been taught?

Both Zechariah and Mary respond to Gabriel, the messenger angel, with a similar question: How can this be? However, there are a few differences. Zechariah is a older man, a husband, a priest, that is a leader of the people, working in the temple. Mary is a young woman, unmarried,  virginal, still probably in the house of her mother and father until her time to be wed to Joseph had come. Gabriel (but really, God) expected Zechariah to comply, to say “Lord I believe” and to follow through on the promise of God. Mary growing up in an agrarian society, would know that in her current state, babies would be impossible to come by. 

When God announces his plan to you, do you trust that he will follow through? How much of him have you seen? Are you overlooking miracles? However, know that he isn’t mad when you ask him how to accomplish the (what appears to be) impossible. You too may just need the Holy Spirit to do the impossible. Are you willing to say “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”?

A quick note, without a question, is that John, in the womb of Elizabeth, responded to the Messiah. Elizabeth thinks her baby is a person before he is born. 

Final thought – Both Mary and Zechariah sing their joy to God. Take some time today and ponder what song you would sing if you could sing it. The lyrics don’t have to be perfect or rhyme. Their doesn’t need to be a meter, or pitch. But what would you sing to God to give him glory? Or, find a song that shares your heart, and sing that to God, thinking of all the blessings he has given you. 

No matter the song in your heart, starting today, have yourself a merry little Christmas now. 

-Jake Ballard

* The wise men weren’t at the manger, but that’s OK! Use that to teach people about Jesus!

**In the author’s correct and very humble opinion.

QUESTIONS

See Above!

My Favorite Verses

Revelation 21

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

I am very much into reading the Bible literately; that is, as the literature of the book dictates. The Gospels demand to be read literally: Jesus did not convince people to share their food, but multiplied the fish and the loaves on two separate occasions. However, poems and parables are full of symbolic imagery; no one should say that Jesus meant the rocks would ACTUALLY sing (though he could make them) or that the trees have hands or that the mountains have throats. (Isaiah 55:12) 

Revelation is Apocalyptic literature, meaning it is full of metaphor and symbolism. A dragon chases a woman into the wilderness when the women instantly grows wings and flies off to safety… we aren’t seeing something that will play out *literally*. Be assured, poetic imagery is just as true as “literal history”. God wins… that’s not a metaphor nor a feeling, but a fact. But there won’t be a woman on a beast, but a city full of imperial power eaten by her own pride,  gluttony, lust, and sin.

We can see the metaphor and symbolism in the last 2/3 of the chapter this morning. The city has twelve gates, twelves angels, twelve tribes, twelve foundation stones, each a different costly stone, twelve apostles. The city is a cube, 1200 stadia (in the Greek) long, wide, and tall. The walls are 144 cubits thick. Notice how often twelve is used! Even the length is 12*1000 and the thickness is 12*12! How should we read and interpret the clear metaphor and symbolism we see in the last part of Revelation 21 could be an interesting puzzle. 

However, that’s not the most important thing. Moreover, it’s not my favorite verse in the Bible. 

Revelation 21:1-8 does not produce in me a desire to pick apart metaphor and symbolism. I readily admit that I am constantly trying to understand the Bible based on genre, but I can’t help but read 21:1-8, as not only a literal description of the beginning of forever, but I lose any “objectivity” and place myself in the text. I see the brilliant shining holy city of God, the promised home for all believers, big enough to fit us all, dead and living, coming down from heaven. A loud voice calls out that we are promised that God will be with us, be our God, we his people, and he will dwell among us. I watch as God himself, with something like the hands of a father who has worked in a field, radiating strength, calloused from work, yet gentle to touch his child, reaches out, and he cups my head in his hands. He uses his thumb to wipe the tears (of joy? Sorrow? Relief?) from my eyes. He pulls me into a hug.

I am home at long last. 

While I encourage you to study and understand the Bible always, to question it and pull at it, because it is strong enough for our hardest probing because the truth has nothing to fear… I want you to believe it’s true. It is true that God will take the time to wipe our tears away. Mine, yours, and all those who believed, from the distant past to the far future. The resurrection will lead to life eternal, and we will drink from the spring of the water of life. I will be with my Father, because God will be my God and I will be his son. But I will also be with my father, my mother, my grandparents, those who have been with me along this journey of life but have died. And the entire family of God will be raised to life, all those who have been faithful. One day, death, mourning, crying, and pain will be no more. There is a new order of things; all is life, joy, shouting, and pleasure!

“East Wall, Middle Gate.” 

I have a good friend whose family and friends know that this is the meeting place in the New Jerusalem. What a powerful way to believe in the truth of Revelation. That’s the kind of faith my favorite verses in the Bible should engender in us. We are so confident in the love, power, and promises of God we have a plan to meet as a family (all of us brothers and sisters) in the new Jerusalem. 

May your faith never waver, may your hope never falter, and may you stand among those who have overcome in the new heavens and new earth. 

See you at the East Wall, Middle Gate.

-Jake Ballard

Reflection Questions

  1. Revelation is a hard book. Sometimes, when trying to figure a book out, we can forget to read the message. How can you live into the truth of Revelation today? Instead of trying to figure it out, how can you rest secure in the knowledge that one day God will fulfill all his promises and all things will be made new?
  2. Do you have a favorite verse of the Bible? How does it help you grow in faith? Ask God to put someone in your path who needs the message in your favorite Bible verse and then share it with them when God puts them in your path. 

God wins.

Revelation 20

Monday, December 5, 2022

The title of this post is unassuming. Two words: a noun, the subject, and a verb in the future tense. 

I am in the business of speaking, teaching, training, sermonizing. And sometimes (less often than I’d like to admit) I may have a sermon that God uses in spite of all my failures and faults. But if I were to have all the power of the greatest speakers, the powerful conviction of Billy Graham, the clarity and precision of Andy Stanley, the dedication of pastors from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. and beyond, more than a thousand eloquent sermons could not compare to the truth of the future of the world summed up in these two words. 

God wins. 

I don’t want to take away from that truth, but I do want to flesh it out a bit. 

In the earlier parts of Revelation, the beheaded souls have been calling out from beyond the grave to the God who will give them justice (Rev. 6:9-11). God promised the victors that they would have reward upon reward (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21). When God wins, those who placed faith in God above even their own lives have the incredible promises. For time out of mind (1000 years) they will reign with Christ, they will not be hurt by the second death. While the language of two resurrections is not common in the rest of the NT*, the truth is that they are SO ASSURED of their salvation its as if they cannot possibly be brought to judgment. The joy of this resurrection is that we who are powerless, weak, poor, and oppressed will one day win, be victorious and live forever with God and his Christ, because God wins. 

And Satan can’t win. The dragon’s wings are clipped, and the serpentine body is prepared for the flames. In this world, God has power to throw the serpent of old, the devil and Satan, and bind him for 1000 years. During that time, his temptation and power are cast down. In the end, the devil who deceived the world was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone. This is a threat and a promise. Moreover, Satan KNOWS this is his end. The battle between God and Satan is not a cinematic, climactic masterpiece. There is no worry about who will win. Satan is not trying to win, because he can’t. He IS trying to make YOU LOSE, because that is a possibility. But God will help you overcome sin, fight temptation, and come through faithful. God can protect you from the defanged, declawed, clipped-wing dragon, because God wins. 

In some sense, part of the glory of God, part of his winning, is allowing humans to choose their outcomes. God allows people to determine their final state. While we are only and forever able to be saved by the glory and grace of God, God both does not force his salvific will upon us and does not preclude us from choosing him. God gives people what they desire. The books are opened; the dead are judged. Christ is our hope (Col. 1:27), our peace (Eph. 2:14), our resurrection and life (John 11:25). If any person has rejected Christ, what have they done but rejected peace with God and people? Rejected hope of eternal life? Rejected the resurrection and the life? God gives them exactly what they demanded. God doesn’t put up with those who were rebellious against him in this life. Because…

God wins.

No ifs, ands, buts. 

No amount of persuasive words will make it less true. 

No force of hell can stop Him, not a dragon or an atheist. 

The promise is true:

God wins. 

– Jake Ballard.

* There are hints of two resurrections in the rest of the NT, but nowhere is it explicitly stated like here in the apocalyptic work of Revelation. 

Reflection Questions

  1. How significant is the phrase “God wins” to you? To elaborate, in what areas of your life are you losing? Temptation and sin? Suffering and pain? Anxiety, depression, stress? What would it mean for you to stop trying to fix it all yourself, and let God win, allowing him to be victorious where you haven’t been yourself?
  2. In the ultimate sense, Satan is powerless. While we might be attacked, tormented, and tempted by evil today, that is not the way the world will be forever. How does it make you feel to know that all evil and wickedness are going to be overcome by the power of God? Will you allow God to protect you, so the battle is one-sided in your favor today?
  3. There is no peace, hope, resurrection or life without Christ. Have you given him control of your life, allowing him to be your savior and lord?

In the Beginning

Genesis 1

January 29

How one starts a story has quite a lot to do with how the rest of the story plays out. 

Once upon a time…

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

And my personal favorite in fiction:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Today we start the story of creation, and the first four words tell us quite a lot. 

In the beginning God…

Anything and everything that comes next depends on this text and, as such, these words are fascinating. 

Apologetics is an art form and a science. Apologetics means, simply, “defending ones faith,” and so Christian Apologetics is about giving reasons for why we believe anything we believe. Why do we believe the Bible is the word of God? Why do we believe Jesus is the Son of God and Messiah? Why do we believe God exists at all? These are good questions and it’s important that you have general answers to them. 

But Genesis 1:1 doesn’t answer them. Genesis 1:1 assumed God is. There is no argument for or against him. There is no argument about other gods or goddesses, about how this book is his word versus other books that say conflicting things, nor does it defend the “contradictions”that some non-believers point out in the text. 

Genesis 1:1 just says “God created.” Simple. Easy. Plain. 

But of course, it is anything but simple and easy and plain. 

I could spend quite some time talking about my own interactions with the text, trying to understand it and science at the same time. I could work to show you whether this text is poetry or narrative and how the text in chapter 1 relates to the order of creation in chapter 2. I could tell you that through strong but loving conversations with important people I have worked out the perfect explanation to the text. I could tell you exactly how you should read this text, end of story, done, nice and easy. 

I could tell you that, but I won’t. 

My own interactions with the text have been difficult. 

People smarter than me read this text literally verbatim as the God’s-eye view of what happened in Genesis. Other people, still smarter than I, say “it’s a metaphor and symbolical account of creation and we need to understand how to read this literately.”

I have come to some strong conclusions but truthfully I hold them loosely because I know what a struggle it was to get to where I am, and I could change tomorrow. 

The only thing I can tell you with certainty is that this text tells us with all seriousness that God is not a distant observer of space-time, nor one and same with the universe, but a powerful mover-and-shaper of all things by the word of his mouth. 

And because the story starts this way, it changes how the rest of the story plays out. God makes light and calls it good, and the metaphor of light is good in the rest of Scripture. God calls for the earth to bring forth plants. He invites creation to participate with him in the creative act, it would seem. God makes the creatures of the ocean, from the great “tanninim”, which could be interpreted as sea monsters, whales, or dragons, worshipped by other cultures. God creates with his mouth the very things that others worship, because all things exist due to his will. 

Speaking of the will of God for creation, that brings us to the most important part of Genesis 1 in our reading today. 

Humanity is part of but also the fulfillment of creation. God not only makes us, but he makes us in his image. He not only invites us to participate in the creative act, but even invites, empowers, and also demands that we rule over creation. And this is not one man given this role, but humanity, the many as both male and female. We ALL are made in the image of God.

Whatever we think about Genesis 1, what we learn is that humanity is made in the image of God, meaning we have value and worth given by God which cannot be taken away. We learn that God created so that there would be a people who would love him, as Genesis functions are the precursor to the central story of the Old Testament, the Exodus. And we learn that when God looks at his creation, with humans in the midst of a world he lovingly called into being, he says it is 

“Very Good.”

-Jake Ballard

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How do you interpret Genesis One? I encourage you to accept church tradition/theology and challenge church tradition/theology, to accept scientific discoveries and challenge scientific discoveries. In both “church” and “science”, we find truth. But, we need to balance truth with wisdom, and see that much that comes from both “church” and “science” are interpretations and value judgments, rather than simple, plain truths. How will you continually seek to understand God’s word? Who do you turn to listen to about church tradition, theology, science and how to interpret each of those factors?
  2. Even though Genesis One assumes the existence of God, and doesn’t try to argue for him but just proves him via his actions with his people, how do you answer the questions presented above? : “Why do we believe the Bible is the word of God? Why do we believe Jesus is the Son of God and Messiah? Why do we believe God exists at all?” What is your answer for your friend who might ask you any one of these questions. If you don’t have a ready answer, then are you “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”?(1 Peter 3:15)
  3. Too often we are told that humanity and all life is a cosmic accident brought about by the random chance of amino acids bursting forth into life in a hot pool of water millions of years ago (a bad interpretation of science, see above). However, this is not true. You are not a cosmic accident, but the keystone of God’s creative act. How does it make you feel that you are part of the final creation of God in Genesis One? Do you believe that God made this world and then declared that it is all very good? How can you honor the role to rule over creation that God has given you and how might you enjoy the very good creation of God this week?

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

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