Blind Guides

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 23 and Genesis 45 & 46

Yesterday we got to spend our whole devotion thinking about a great party and the thrill of receiving an invitation from God to honor His Son. Today – no such fun. The parties and parables are gone and today, in Matthew 23, we read only of strong warnings, harsh words, and blasting condemnation. This is the last recorded time in the book of Matthew that Jesus addresses the crowds. This is what he is going to leave with them – too important to not say. Anyone who believes Jesus would never condemn because he just loved people no matter what, just full of overflowing forgiveness and love, could benefit from a little sit down with Matthew 23.

It is clear that Jesus was not happy with these Pharisees and teachers of the law. He starts by warning the crowd to not be like the Pharisees as he begins describing them: they don’t practice what they preach, they make it harder for people to be godly, they love being honored by men and they pridefully exalt themselves. And then, speaking directly to the Pharisees and teachers of the law he lets loose on what has become known as the “7 Woes”. Six times he will begin with “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” and once with “Woe to you, blind guides.” Jesus uses some choice language to describe these men: son of hell, blind guides, blind fools, blind men (notice a pattern?), snakes and brood of vipers.

So, what in the world were these people doing that was so bad to receive this 7 part hellfire sermon. After all, we know Jesus often responded to people’s sins with mercy, grace and forgiveness and the all-important chance to start over. He hadn’t called the lying cheating thieving Zacchaeus a son of hell? What was different here?

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were supposed to be the ones to guide people to God. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary suggests there were about 6,000 Pharisees at the time – mostly middle-class businessmen who had devoted themselves to being separate – becoming the religious leaders who would show the Jews how to please God. And, some were indeed authentic in this quest (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are two named in Scripture). The crowd gathered was likely shocked to hear Jesus speaking of and to the Pharisees in this way because they had been taught (at least by the Pharisees themselves) to revere the position and spiritual leadership held by this Jewish sect.

What started out as a good goal became warped and ungodly. As the Pharisees kept puffing themselves up there was no room left for what really pleases God. They had become blind guides. And it is obviously very dangerous to follow a blind guide. They could lead you straight to somewhere you don’t want to go. And that is exactly the warning Jesus was giving the Pharisees and the crowd. “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13 NIV).

The Pharisees loved the law and specialized in knowing and enforcing each and every little detail of a long long list of do’s and don’ts. This, they thought, would make God happy. But all the while they neglected the larger heart issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness. They mastered in the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s, but failed to see that the novel they were writing with their lives was tearing down every attempt others were making to please God. They were quick to point out other’s errors, but saw none of their own. It became most important to them to look good before man. So important that they forgot about how to actually look good before God. They were puffed up and proud, greedy and selfish.


It is easy to read this chapter and shake my head and point my finger and say, “Boy, I’m glad I am not like one of them.” But, in so doing – I become like one of them.

Dear God, help me to do what is right – with a heart that is right. May I see the error of the Pharisee’s ways – and my own – and work to clean up my own insides. Help me be humble and not seek the honor of men. Open my eyes to who you are and what truly pleases you. Open my ears to the teachings of your Son, to not just know it but to live it. Help me guide others to you, not armed with a legalistic checklist, but with a heart of justice, mercy and faithfulness. In your precious Son’s name, I pray.

-Marcia Railton

You are Invited!

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 22 and Genesis 43 & 44

What was the best party you have ever been to? How did you get invited? What was your relationship with the host? With the guest of honor? Who else was there? What did you wear?

Or, maybe there was a party you were invited to that you didn’t make time for? Perhaps you didn’t really know the guest of honor that well so you weren’t too interested. Or maybe you were mad at the host so you stayed away? Or you figured it would be boring since they didn’t have (insert hobby/entertainment of choice). But then, come to find out – you missed out on the party of the century.

Jesus knew we like to talk about parties. Wedding receptions are particularly exciting – and royal wedding parties top the charts. So what a perfect parable and analogy for the Kingdom God is preparing. God is the King – and as host of the party he decides who to invite to this event of all events which will honor His Son – Jesus.

The guest list starts out somewhat small and elite which is very fitting for a royal party. The Jews were the first to be invited to the party. They could trace their heritage back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the fathers of the faith. But, they ignore their invite and the God who sent it. They don’t even RSVP. God sends his servants out as messengers (the prophets and those who speak for God) to remind God’s people of the graciousness of their host and the splendor of the party. But, the potential guests of the party are too deep into other things – their fields, their businesses, their homes, their selfish pursuits, their false gods. Most just ignore God’s messengers – but some decide the best way to decline the invite is through violence. In rage they attack God’s messengers, even killing some. For a time they may have thought they got away with it. But, God knows and delivers judgment.

The guests didn’t show but the party isn’t cancelled. God sends his messengers again. They hit the streets with new invitations. “Invite them all,” says the host. It no longer matters who your great great great grandfather was. It doesn’t matter who you were or what you did. Old, young, rich, poor, men, women, children, black, white, and every color in between. You are invited! And all your neighbors in the world are invited! Let the party begin.

But, wait – that’s not yet the end of the parable or God’s expectations. The host has indeed invited all and is ready to receive all into His Kingdom Party. But, you must come dressed appropriately for the party so you aren’t tossed out. No, God won’t check to see if you have a designer label – but He will check to make sure you have clothed yourself with salvation. To accept your invitation accept God’s Son as the only way to salvation. And then put on the robes of righteousness – seek to live the life that will bring glory to the Father and the Son. There are many passages that continue the analogy of being properly clothed with righteousness, not stained with sin – some are Job 29:14, Isaiah 61:10, Jude 23, Revelation 3:4 and 19:8).

The greatest party ever to come is about to begin and you and all your neighbors are invited. Don’t turn down the invite because you are mad at God or don’t know Jesus well or are busy at home and work. Accept His invitation. Come to the party. But don’t make the fatal error of trying to sneak in unprepared. Accept His Son and clothe yourself with righteousness. Make sure your neighbors know they are invited and help them select their proper attire.

And then – let the party begin!

-Marcia Railton

Less than a Week before Dying

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 21 and Genesis 41 & 42

What would you do if you knew you would die in less than a week? Is there anywhere you would want to go? What changes would you make in your schedule and priorities? Less TV, pinterest or social media? More meaningful interactions with those who mean the most to you? Would your tone change? Would you give more hugs? Are there any difficult conversations you wouldn’t put off any longer? If there was anything you could do to prolong your life would you do it?

Jesus was in a very unique situation as he was coming into Jerusalem in Matthew 21. He knew he was quickly approaching both the time and place for his agonizing death by crucifixion. Many would run in the other direction. Maybe if he laid low and avoided Jerusalem longer the chief priests and leaders of the law would forget about him and find some other religious teacher to get mad at and crucify. Think of how many more people he could heal and teach if he could stay away from them just another month? Wouldn’t it be worth it?

But, Jesus didn’t hide or try to dodge the bullet. If anything he boldly intensified his work and purpose. Previously he had mostly stuck to the smaller towns and villages rather than camping out in Jerusalem – the holy city of all Jews. Often he had told those he healed to be quiet about it. He was never trying to draw a crowd – but the crowds still had a way of finding him anyways. Now, as he made preparations to enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy) he knew the crowds couldn’t be held back any longer. On this day they would shower Jesus with shouts of praise, but in a few days they will cry out for crucifixion.

We don’t know the day or hour or location of our death. We also don’t know how long the tomb will hold us. But, like Jesus – and because of Jesus’ resurrection and God’s promise to send Him to earth again – we can be sure of a resurrection to come. How will that impact the intensity of your ministry today – how you spend your time, what conversations you have, what passion you have for the Father’s work and will?

May we not be like the fig tree that had life but failed to bear fruit for Him.

May we not be like the son who said he would do the Father’s work – but then didn’t.

-Marcia Railton

What’s in it for Me?

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 20 and Genesis 39-40

Today we have more jostling and trying to get to the front of the line, despite what Jesus just taught about the proper order – keep God first, then others before yourself. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. One of the last verses from yesterday’s Matthew 19 was Peter asking, “What then will there be for us?” (19:27b NIV) In today’s reading of Matthew 20, James’ and John’s mother will ask if her two sons can sit at Jesus’ right and left when Jesus sits on his throne. What’s in it for me (and my kids)? How can I be first, best, greatest?

Jesus’ reply isn’t what they were looking for. First, in continuing his answer to Peter, he tells the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. The workers hired first worked all day and worked well and got what they had worked for – one denarius (a fair wage for a day of work). It would have been fine, except that, all day long the boss kept hiring others to come get the job done – some ended up just working the last hour. And, they too, received one full denarius! Where was the extra reward and recognition and pat on the back for being first, for putting more time on the clock, for working harder than any of the others? It wasn’t fair. But the boss didn’t say, “Thank you so much for pointing that injustice out to me, here’s your bonus.” Instead, he said it was time for an attitude check. You did your work well, but your selfish complaining attitude isn’t pretty. Stop questioning the master’s generosity. Stop comparing your work load and pay rate with your neighbors’. God’s got this – He’s a good boss. Your job isn’t to be boss, your job is to keep working in the vineyard – with a good attitude – not selfish and resentful but thankful and joyful for the grace and mercy the boss shows to others.

For the 3rd time in the book of Matthew – Jesus prepares his disciples for his upcoming death – this time revealing it will be through crucifixion. But they don’t get it. They still expect his kingdom to start soon in a grand and glorious manner.

The mother of James and John is planning ahead. She knows Jesus has a very special relationship with her boys so it’s time to secure their place at his side – how about the thrones on the right and left of Jesus when he becomes king? The boys agree they are ready for these places of honor. Jesus said if you are trying to be great – if you are trying to be first – SERVE OTHERS. Give up your life, your time, your pride and selfishness. Put the needs of others before your own. Just as Jesus did – over and over again – with his life and then with his death.

The world doesn’t need more Christians trying to be first and greatest. The world needs more Christian servants joyfully working in the vineyard and caring for the needs of others.

-Marcia Railton

In the Right Order

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 37 & 38 and Matthew 19

I remember a song we used to sing in Sunday School:

“Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell J-O-Y!

Jesus and Others and You, in the life of each girl and each boy.

J is for Jesus for he has first place. O is for Others we meet face to face.

Y is for You in whatever you do. Put yourself third and spell Joy.”

It’s not just a sweet song with a catchy tune for little girls and boys. There is a lot of truth in those lyrics. And it comes to play in two passages in Matthew 19 – Jesus’ teaching on divorce and his conversation with the rich young man regarding materialism. Let’s look first at divorce.

Too often marriages start to crumble when the relationship becomes a ‘his side’ vs ‘her side’. Gone is the teamwork and working together and dream of always being together that brought them together in the first place. It is replaced with selfish goals and pursuits, quick tempers and irritations, and eventually seeing their mate tragically not as their better half but as their enemy. It is not a new thing – it was a problem 2,000 years ago as well. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason.” (Matthew 19:3). She doesn’t make me happy any more. He never picks up his dirty socks. This isn’t as fun as I thought it would be -it’s too hard. I think I love someone else. He’s changed too much. She never has time for me. He works too much – or not enough. Times have indeed changed, but people, not so much. We would do well to remember and put to daily use Jesus’ reply.

Marriage was created by God – for a male and female to become one – for life. What God created is good. Humans have a way of messing up his creation – including finding ways out of marriage. So how do we avoid the hard hearts that lead to divorce? Remember the proper order. Jesus-Others-You. As you and your spouse draw closer to God and His Son it draws you closer to one another so your spiritual health is a great place to start. And nothing breaks the viscous his side/her side battle like seeing yourself as one – the way God intended. It’s harder to go into attack mode when you are actually shooting yourself, or your other half. Before you know it – you are naturally putting him or her ahead of yourself because you realize the team benefit. And the JOY creeps back into your marriage – the way God intended.

And then we have the rich young man who wanted to know what he had to do to ensure eternal life. Jesus said start by following God’s law – that is the part about putting Jesus first since Jesus came to do and teach God’s will. The man was pleased to report he did that well – but what else could he do? Sell your possessions, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus – that is putting others before yourself in a big way. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matthew 19:22). He lost his JOY because he was too attached to what he had amassed to keep himself comfortable. He boasted of how well he kept God’s commands – but it was too hard to love his neighbors like himself. He got himself out of order. That’s the trouble with wealth – it often makes us forget to put God and others first. Jesus didn’t say NO rich man would gain eternal life, but it would be very hard. Rather than solving problems wealth often creates more. It becomes harder and harder to keep priorities straight and in the proper order when you have more and more to juggle and prioritize.

Jesus – Others – and You. Put yourself at the end of the line because at the judgment, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30). It’s the order that leads to lasting life and joy.

-Marcia Railton

Sin is Serious – And So is Mercy

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 35 & 36 and Matthew 18

I have watched just enough mobster movies to know the awful fate of those who anger the mafia boss and receive the “cement shoes” treatment. That is the vision that always comes to mind when I read of the seriousness of leading a child to sin. “And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5,6 NASB) Jesus was giving a pretty heavy answer to the disciples who had asked who would be greatest in the kingdom. He answered that instead of trying to be great, they should focus on being childlike instead – not immature (we see enough of that), but humble, knowing that they don’t know everything and they need a Father and a Savior. And while the child is standing in their midst – Jesus commends those who welcome a child and blasts those who recklessly (or accidentally?) lead a child to sin. As a parent and a Christian this is a strong warning that I will be judged based on how I am spiritually leading and guiding God’s children. I do not know where the line will be drawn. We might be able to safely point out some cases that would definitely receive Jesus’ condemnation (those who exploit children and youth for sex trafficking, pornography, cults or gangs). But what of the parent who signs their child up for the youth sports, campouts and Sunday morning jobs knowing it will take them away from opportunities for God’s little children to grow closer to Him? I don’t know. But it seems wise to do my best to err on the side of caution. What else can I be doing to spiritually guide His children away from sin? Life is easier when you don’t feel the weight of a millstone around your neck or cement hardening in your shoes.

And, if that isn’t scary enough – Jesus broadens the picture next – to all people and sinners and the extreme measures that need to be taken to keep oneself from falling into sin. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7 NIV). And then comes the gruesome cutting off of body parts that causes you to sin. This gives a strong mental picture of doing whatever it takes to hold oneself accountable and keep oneself from sin. If your eye causes you to sin, cut it out, to save yourself from judgment and hell. This is definitely true in a metaphorical sense. We need to do all we can, even what would be considered extreme measures, to keep ourselves from sin. And, sometimes that will mean cutting off the influence some people hold over us – cutting off a friend or family member or social media/entertainment who entices us to sin. It’s a hard thing to do, just like cutting off your hand – but it could save your eternal life. And, we must watch ourselves to make sure we are not the ones enticing others to sin!

While I love the parable of the lost sheep and it hurts to skip over it…I am going to skip ahead to the next two passages in Matthew 18 which both deal with the brother who sins against you. Having just established the seriousness of sin, the consequences for those who lead others to sin and the extreme measures we are to employ to keep us from sin – it is easy to assume that the best course of action is to shun all sin and sinners. But, wait, what kind of cut off, silent, lonely, bitter world would that be? While we are all sinners – God gave us a way to be forgiven and to restore relationships. Jesus begins to explain it here.

First, if a brother sins against you – go and talk to him. Matthew 18: 15-17 goes through an important series of steps to work towards either resolution or healthy distance and cutting off -and it starts with talking to the “offender”. Too often when we feel someone has sinned against us we talk to others about it. I know I am guilty of this and need to do a better job of lovingly confronting the person I have an issue with – first. So the steps Jesus laid out are: talk privately to the person, if he doesn’t listen take 1-2 witnesses and try again, if he doesn’t listen tell the church, if he still doesn’t listen cut him off. The goal is always to win him back to ‘God’s saving side’, not to humiliate, point fingers or feel better about ourselves or peace at any cost. But, sometimes repentance doesn’t happen, and then we must be willing to cut the ties that would bring others down to sin as well.

So, let’s assume we correctly followed the steps Jesus left. Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive a brother who sinned against him. He thought 7 sounded like a lot. But Jesus said no – 77 or 70 x 7 or whatever number you want to use to remind yourself to keep forgiving – the same way you want others to forgive you. And the same way God has forgiven you. I think we can safely assume this is not the brother who was unrepentant and cast out of the church, but a brother who was repentant and seeking to live a godly life – but still tripped up – like you and me. And so Jesus lays out the powerful Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (make sure you read it again). Now the harsh words and judgment are not for the sinner who tripped up, or even the one who caused him to sin, but for the one who didn’t forgive. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” (Matthew 18:32-34).

It isn’t that sin is nothing – and easily forgiven. Sin (of all kinds) is something huge and serious and able to block us from eternal life. If we could see how much our sin hurts others, handicaps ourself and damages our relationship with God we might more readily run from it. But we don’t always, and God in His mercy still lays out a way for us to restore a relationship with Him, ultimately it would cost Him the death of His Son Jesus. To accept the forgiveness offered to you, but not extend it to others puts you again in grave danger. Sin is a big deal – and so is mercy.

-Marcia Railton

Listen to Him

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 33 & 34 and Matthew 17

Here we are beginning the 3rd full week of 2021 and so much has happened already. 7 days of careful investigation revealing solid scientific evidence supporting a Biblical view of a miraculous creator (and destroyer) God. And then 7 days of the Old Testament patriarchs of Genesis and fathers of the faith: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and what they teach us still today about following God with the faith of Abraham. This week our devotions will be following our New Testament readings in the book of Matthew (one chapter a day) to see what God is doing…

Matthew 17 begins with an awe-inspiring mountain-top experience (often called the Transfiguration) in which God’s glory radiates through and around Jesus Christ – showing a snippet of the beauty, majesty and glory of God’s coming Kingdom which will feature His dazzling Son amongst the risen heroes of the faith. Peter, James and John were there to see it – and they were shaking in their boots at the power of the moment and the voice of God heard from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5)

But wait…we really can’t start there. Our spiritual journey doesn’t exist only on the glorious mountaintop. What comes before the glory? About a week before the events of Matthew 17, Jesus was telling his disciples that he would face much persecution and even death (before being raised to life) (Matthew 16:21). Bold, strong, impetuous Peter who thinks he knows better than the Son of God tries to correct Jesus – Peter would never let that happen to Jesus. But Jesus isn’t encouraged or amused by Peter but rather calls him “Satan…a stumbling block….you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23). Jesus continues to prepare his disciples, letting them know that he would not be the only one expected to suffer – but that they too would be required to endure the agony of “taking up their cross” to follow him.

It doesn’t sound fun or exciting. It is hard to get people to sign up for suffering. Peter and the disciples didn’t like the sound of it. Most people today don’t. But it is not suffering without a goal. It is a fight worthy of the cause and the prize. Jesus said those who would suffer for him and lose their life would find it – because after the suffering for Christ – comes the glory. Jesus explained, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:27-28 NIV)

And, a week later, Peter, James and John found themselves on a mountain-top getting a taste of the splendor that will be when God tells His Son, Jesus, it is time to go to the earth to set up a kingdom like none have ever seen before. A kingdom greater than anything set up in the time of the Law (Moses) or the prophets (Elijah) or Jesus’ first coming. God was revealing His perfect plan for His perfect Son and all those who will listen to him.

Contrary to both today’s “prosperity gospel” and Peter’s human thinking, God’s perfect plan does not consist solely of beautiful, bright mountain-top experiences. There is also the ugly, dark and painful cross. For Jesus – and for those who listen to him and carry their cross. But don’t fear, God’s got this. He’s got those who listen to His Son. Our trials will not last forever – but His Kingdom will. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV)

How can you be sure your suffering will have a reward? Are you suffering for Christ – or yourself? Is your master plan for your life from the mind of man (how can I get ahead and protect myself best?) or from the mind of God (suffer for the sake of God’s Son and look forward to the reward to come)? What will listening to Jesus look like for you in 2021? What will suffering before glory look like for you today?

-Marcia Railton

To Wash or Not to Wash?

Matthew 15 and Mark 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Marcia Railton

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

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

More than Just a Free Lunch

John 6

Some days I have trouble feeding my hungry family. It’s not because there isn’t lots of food options in the house (only some of them past-dated). It’s just that sometimes I didn’t plan ahead and I am missing that one ingredient needed for what sounds good, or I am just tired, or it’s simply one of those days I would rather be anywhere but the kitchen. Feeding 5 seems like a rather large chore some days. I can’t even begin to imagine what I would do if I was given the job of feeding 5,000 men! This is definitely time for a miracle!

The Feeding of the 5.000 must have been a favorite event to recall during the time of the early church as it is one of the very few (or, even the only) miracles of Jesus recorded in all 4 gospels. It is fun to see the slight differences each writer brings to their retelling.

Matthew records this event as happening right after Jesus heard about the beheading of John the Baptist(14:13). Mark and Luke recall that the disciples had just returned from their Jesus-appointed “mission trips” and were reporting on all they had experienced. Jesus was definitely looking for a quiet place to be alone with his disciples so he took them to a remote location. But the crowds still found him. As an introvert I love and value the time I have alone with my quiet. But as a follower of Jesus, I must remember so much of the job he would have me do requires connection with others (in-person or even virtually in 2020). Jesus had compassion on the crowd, re-ordered his calendar and priorities, and pushed back his quiet time with God til later (he DID still get his quiet time though – even if it was when most people were sleeping). Luke records, “He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” (9:10).

Today we are reading of the event from John’s gospel. John had been an eyewitness to see so many of Jesus’ miracles, but he chose to include only 7 in his gospel account – one of them being the Feeding of the 5,000. Dr. Joe Martin, New Testament professor at Atlanta Bible College, loves to point out all the details we get from John. Unlike the other gospel writers, John wrote his gospel later in life, when the brain’s old memory bank is overflowing with fun little details of events long past. John is in fact the only author who tells where the 5 loaves and 2 fish came from – the little boy’s lunch. John even includes that the loaves were made of barley (a cheaper grain most often consumed by the poor). He also recalls and includes which disciple said what when. He did all he could to help his readers watch this amazing miracle unfold.

Can you picture yourself in that crowd, stomach growling but not wanting to leave to find food – you don’t want to miss a minute with Jesus. And then, you’re told to sit down and the food starts coming – and coming – and coming. Sure, it is simple barley loaves and fish, but they taste so good and filling. Word passes around that all this food came from one little boy’s lunch. How in the world could so many people eat and be filled with 5 loaves and 2 fish? There was no logical explanation. This man Jesus who had taken the bread and fish and gave thanks to his Father had just performed a miracle and you were there to see it and taste it and fill you up inside. You can’t wait to tell your friends and neighbors about your experience with this man Jesus.

After a retelling of the amazing walking on water scene (which truly deserves a devotion of its own), John includes the teaching Jesus gave calling himself the Bread of Life. Jesus realized that since he had miraculously fed the multitudes he would have a following constantly looking for another free lunch . How could he explain to them that through God’s plan, he (Jesus) could offer them so much more than a free meal that would fade away and be replaced with gnawing hunger again. God’s design was so much greater. Jesus said: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).

You may have missed the free lunch, but don’t let this offer pass you by!

Remember Jesus’ words to Satan (and recited from what would become Deuteronomy) “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 NIV). Look to God, fill yourself up on His Word and His Son. Nothing else satisfies. Nothing else leads to eternal life but the Bread of Life, the Son of God.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to on BibleGateway here – John 6.

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 15 and Mark 7 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible reading plan.

When Evil Triumphs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are John’s last thoughts?

Does Salome have nightmares? What does she become?

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

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

Some days it just looks like evil triumphs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Marcia Railton

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

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