WELCOME TO EASTER 2017!

We are beginning our Easter journey together as a church family on Ash Wednesday with a church-wide time of worship and preparation. Obviously, this is both an ancient and familiar journey for the people of God. For centuries, Christians have marked their calendars for a celebration of Easter. In fact, each week is a reminder of the importance of the resurrection of Jesus because Sunday was chosen as the day of worship for His followers.
 
So, let me welcome you to the 2017 edition of our Easter celebration. We will spend this season gathered around the Gospel of Matthew.

What is Lent?

The word “Lent” actually is a shortened version of the word “lengthen” – it simply refers to the spring season of the year where the days are longer. It became connected to Easter in the ancient church. There are some indications that churches used the season prior to Easter Sunday to prepare baptismal candidates for the ordinance of baptism. Often, Easter Sunday was a traditional time for baptism of new believers.

Over time, various traditions grew around this annual emphasis. As the church became more formalized, the traditions and practices became more formal as well. Lent is a good example of that trend. Eventually, the season was celebrated over a 40-day period and the celebration was extended to include all church members—not just baptismal candidates. This time was to be devoted to fasting and devotion.

In fact, the Roman Catholic Church began to promote the necessity of parishioners to officially fast from “something meaningful” during the span of the 40 days. Consequently, most of us are familiar with the phrase, “What are you giving up for Lent?”

The period of fasting and devotion begins on Ash Wednesday with a special service of confession and prayer. In the more liturgical denominations, parishioners kneel before their minister and receive marks on their foreheads from the ashes from palm branches burned the previous Easter Season. It is a tangible, symbolic act representing the initiation of this somber journey.

In the medieval church, the practice arose of removing all meat, fat and sweets from the home just prior to Ash Wednesday. Again, consequently the day before became known as “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras) when the family would host a great feast commemorating the beginning of the 40-day fast.

Parishioners were always allowed to feast on the Sundays of the Lenten Season. So, those six Sundays are not counted in the 40 days that lead up to Easter.

How do we celebrate Lent?

The short answer is----we don’t. What I mean is, Baptists historically have been reticent to adopt anything Catholic! However, in the past 25 years or so, many Baptists have warmed up to the idea of joining with fellow Christians and marking the Easter Season with some semblance of devotion and preparation. That is what we are doing.

So, we will begin our journey on Ash Wednesday with a church-wide worship service. We do not use ashes in our service—but, we will mark the launching of this somber journey to Golgotha.

Also, this year, we will read the Gospel of Matthew together to guide us on our journey. Matthew is the first book in our New Testament. It was written by an eye-witness to the life of Jesus. Matthew was a convert to Christ who left his tax-collector business to follow Jesus. He became one of the 12 disciples of Christ and produced this comprehensive account of the life and teaching of Jesus.

I will provide you with a suggested reading and a devotional thought for each day in our journey. We are attempting to enrich our understanding of the Gospel itself. We will use this time to become more deeply acquainted with Jesus Himself and how His example and teachings affect our lives each day.

I will also share my sermon plans with you so that you might be prepared for our times of worship together. Also, there will be space provided for you to record your prayers, insights or study notes along the way.

God bless you. What a privilege for me to serve you as your pastor. I am praying for you as we spend 40 Days with The King!

 
LET’S GET STARTED!

Let’s begin our journey with a time of commitment and prayer. A lot can happen in your life in 40 days! There will be many potential distractions along the way. The last thing Satan desires is for the people of God to deepen their devotion to God!

I invite you to take the time to pray and ask God to guide you during these 40 days. Let’s ask Him to speak powerfully and personally to us as we journey together. Also, I encourage you to express to Him your level of commitment to this endeavor. Commit yourself to spend some time each day in His Word and before Him in prayer as you travel this ancient journey to the cross.


Ash Wednesday - March 1
Matthew 1
40 Days with The King


Matthew is considered the “bridge” between the Old and New Testaments. His Gospel is thoroughly Jewish and characterized by connections of Old Testament prophecy to the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. We don’t think his Gospel was the first one written—but it is so deeply immersed in Old Testament imagery and thought, it naturally fits as the opening to the New Testament.

Notice in Matthew 1:1, he uses the word “genealogy” as he begins the story. In the original language, this word is actually “genesis.” This is an obvious connection to the first book of our Bible. Also, notice he introduces Jesus as both Messiah, King and Son of Abraham. The reference to David is a reminder that Jesus has a royal lineage. In fact, Matthew states this boldly in verse 6 when he refers to David as King.

The birth narrative in verses 18-25 will ultimately serve as complementary to Luke’s account. The presence of heavenly influence and prophetic fulfillment pointed out by Matthew give us a hint of how he intends to tell this story.

So, this is our first day and we are being introduced to The King. He is the Son of David (refer to 2 Samuel 7) and the fulfillment of God’s promise to him. He is the Son of Abraham and the fulfillment of God’s promise to him. He is fully human (Son of Mary) and fully God (Son of God). Wow! What a King!

Take some time today to read through Matthew 1 and reflect upon the sweeping introduction Jesus is given. He is connected historically and his lineage is traced through real people. His birth is majestic and glorious. His story is incomparable. He is The King!


March 2, 2017
Matthew 2
Royalty in the Cradle

I well remember the birth of both of our children. They couldn’t have been more different. Our daughter Hannah was an emergency delivery. We had a planned inducement and had spent most of the day at the hospital in a brand-new Labor/Delivery room at All Saints Episcopal Hospital in Ft. Worth. We had friends from our church in Mertens and Cindy’s parents with us.

However, the day was interrupted when they could no longer hear Hannah’s heartbeat. In a matter of moments, the doctor appeared and Cindy was whisked from our room to an operating room. The doctor looked at me and said, “I don’t know what is happening, but I will return soon to let you know.” And off they all went. I was left alone in the room. Unforgettable, to say the least!

Josiah, on the other hand, was a planned C-section at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler. I was present in the room and Cindy was awake for his birth. We were able to see him immediately and hold him as well. It was truly memorable—particularly because he was 10 lbs. and 6 oz.—but far less traumatic! (at least for me!)

Just like Cindy and I, I’m sure Joseph and Mary never forgot the details of the birth of Jesus. How could they? Mary was a virgin when she gave birth. They had to travel to Bethlehem for the delivery. And then—Matthew tells us what happened next. These Magi came from the east to celebrate the birth of the King of the Jews! When they found the young family, they presented Jesus with gifts fit for a king.

Jesus is the Son of Man, Son of God and the Son of David. From an earthly perspective, He has royal lineage. He is indeed the King of the Jews. In fact, the Bible will later reveal that He is the King of Kings!

Today, let’s reflect even further upon the kingship of Jesus. He came to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. As His followers, we are to be citizens of that kingdom. What does that mean to you? What is your understanding of the Kingdom of God (in Matthew, Kingdom of Heaven)?


March 3, 2017
Matthew 3
A Royal Example

As a pastor, I have had the privilege of baptizing many new believers. What a joy for me! Each one is special and memorable in its own right. In fact, I have had the great joy of baptizing both of my children and one of my grandchildren. What a blessing!

In fact, I well remember my own baptism. Brother Clyde Meredith baptized me on Halloween night of my senior year in High School. As we stood in the baptistery in my home church, he said, “Well, this is a night that is often associated with the devil. But, tonight, we are claiming it as a night of victory for the Lord Jesus!”

Our reading for today is Matthew 3. John the Baptist was well established in his ministry by this point. He had been preaching in the desert region of Judea. This is an area east of Jerusalem and north of the Dead Sea. He spent his ministry proclaiming a message of repentance as he traveled up and down the Jordan River valley.

Matthew is quick to point out the ministry of John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 40 concerning the forerunner to the Messiah. All four Gospels refer to the throngs of people who came to hear this itinerant preacher’s message and responded to his call to repentance.
 
Imagine John’s surprise when Jesus shows up in the crowd! John recognized Jesus and implored Him to baptize him instead (Matthew 3:14). But, Jesus was determined to serve as an example to all of His future followers. Plus, this was the public launching of His Messianic ministry. His baptism was His anointing for the priestly ministry He would embrace. The Spirit of God appeared and God’s voice affirmed it all (Matthew 3:17). This would certainly be John’s most memorable baptism!

Baptism is about humility, obedience, new life and submission to the will of God. I hope today you will take the time to remember your own baptism. Also, this is a day to acknowledge the humility of your Savior who has given you numerous examples to follow in your daily life.


March 4, 2017
Matthew 4
Showdown in the Desert


On the heels of His baptism, Jesus retreated to the desert. In fact, He was led by the Spirit to do so (Matthew 4:1). The purpose of the retreat? To be tempted by the devil.

This is an incredible scene. A standoff between the leaders of two antagonistic kingdoms. The devil is the leader of the kingdom of darkness (Ephesians 2:2; 6:12); and Jesus is the ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven. the success of the ministry of Jesus was at stake in encounters like this.

The devil had already been at work against Jesus prior to this event. In Matthew’s birth narrative, we discover the dastardly behavior of King Herod (Matthew 2). He ordered the slaughter of innocent children in Bethlehem. Today you can visit the Grotto of the Innocents—an altar located under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, dedicated to the memory of these babies. I have had the privilege of standing at this altar and reflecting upon the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. It is unforgettable.

Despite the evil actions of this despot, Matthew knew the real enemy was not Herod. It was the devil – diabolos in the Greek New Testament. We get our word “diabolical” from this Greek word. It always has the definite article in the original text. He is a being. His name is Satan. He is opposed to everything God stands for. He is evil personified.

At this point in history, the devil was pulling out all the stops to bring an end to the life and witness of Jesus Christ. At the outset of the public ministry of Jesus, the devil tried to stop Jesus before He even got started!

Take the time to read through these temptations. Notice how pointed the devil’s attacks are. He is strategic and determined. Also, pay specific attention to how Jesus responded to each temptation. He used His knowledge of the Word of God. He refused to give in to Satan’s invitations.

The devil wants to derail every good thing in your life. You must stand strong against him—just like Jesus did. Ask the Father for His help.


March 5, 2017 - Sunday
A Royal Birth
Matthew 2


This sermon will focus on the truths found in the birth narrative of Matthew 2. Matthew shares the unique story of the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem. They traveled far from home to pay homage to the newborn King.

Take the time to re-read Matthew 2. Notice the royal trappings surrounding the birth of Jesus. A King was discussing the birth of Jesus with these rulers or sages from the east. They also had brought gifts fit for a king. Jesus was born a Savior and a King!


March 6, 2017
Matthew 5:1-20
A Blessed Life

This week’s readings will be drawn from the most famous sermon ever preached—The Sermon on the Mount. In this message, Jesus set forth His expectations for His followers as they experienced life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember, Matthew is writing mainly to a Jewish audience. Therefore, he is cognizant of the common practice among Jews to refrain from writing God’s name—unless absolutely necessary. So, he refers throughout his Gospel to the Kingdom of God as the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Sermon on the Mount is a message from Jesus about life in that kingdom. It is informational, instructional, inspirational and invitational! You can find information on numerous topics in this sermon. Jesus has given instructions about life among His followers in this message. Millions of believers have been inspired through the years by this sermon. In this message, Jesus offered an invitation for His hearers to embody His teachings in their everyday lives.

As you read through this sermon this week, you will find many opportunities to be instructed and inspired. Your view of the Christian life will be informed. Hopefully, you will embrace the invitation to live the life God is offering you through a relationship with His Son and our Savior.

The sermon opens with what has commonly become known as The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Each of these declarations from Jesus begins with the Greek word, makarios. This word can also be rendered into English with either “blessed” or “happy”—and modern translations reflect this. Some prefer one over the other.

I don’t mind the translation “happy” as long as we refrain from the temptation to trivialize it into a self-centered reality. This word is deep and rich. We are “blessed” or “happy” as believers because of God’s favor resting upon us. His attention to us brings us a deep and abiding sense of His favor. We are blessed or happy because of this truth.

Today, you will read the opening to the Sermon on the Mount. Take some time to reflect upon how blessed you are because of God’s favor in your life.


March 7, 2017
Matthew 5:21-48
Royal Authority

This section of the Sermon on the Mount is often referred to by scholars as the “antitheses” because Jesus commented on what the people had heard from their religious teachers. There are six examples of this in our reading for today. Jesus said, “You have heard it said” – “but I say unto you.” This is an emphatic expression of His authority.

As you are reading today, take time to reflect upon the authority of Jesus to speak into any situation, to address any topic and to be recognized immediately as King! He has the authority to speak into your life on any level at any time. He is God in the flesh. His words are powerful and life-giving.

The religious leaders of Jesus’s day had a hold on the lives of the people. Their interpretation of the Law had become just as binding on the people as the Law itself. Jesus addressed that in His teachings in His earthly ministry. That is why often people were amazed at what He said. Sometimes the Gospel writers recorded the people’s amazement by writing, “No one had ever taught like this.”

It is very easy for me—either as a pastor or just as a Christian—to think “my” interpretation of something is authoritative or determinative. However, occasionally it is helpful for me to stand humbly before Jesus and just seek His perspective!

This week’s reading is a great opportunity to do just that. Take some time to ask Jesus to speak to you. Let His words this week wash over your soul. Embrace Him as your authority.

For example, in Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus speaks directly to the issue of revenge. I have discovered through the years it is easy to teach this passage----it is hard to live it out in real life! Yet, Jesus is speaking an authoritative word on this subject.

Our theme for this Easter journey is 40 Days with The King. Is He King in your life?


March 8, 2017
Matthew 6:1-18
God’s Will on Earth

Matthew 6:9-13 contain the most famous words of this sermon. Often, referred to as The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gave His followers instructions in this section on how to pray.

First of all, Jesus taught His followers that prayer is a private, devotional enterprise. There is nothing wrong with public prayers. I believe in them! I am a pastor, so I pray publically all the time. However, Jesus’s instructions are aimed at rescuing us from empty, meaningless public prayers. He is challenging us to develop a deep and intimate relationship with God. This message from Jesus is an invitation to His followers to give attention to God in the daily exercises of prayer.

Praying is an intensely personal discipline. It offers us an opportunity to come before God in a private and intimate setting. We can voice our concerns, share our burdens, express our praise, delineate our reasons for gratitude and just enjoy the presence of God. We can receive instruction, inspiration and nurture in our prayer life.

There are several facets in the Lord’s Prayer worth noting. I would point your attention to just a few:

Perspective – God is our Father. He is relational, personal and close. But He is in heaven! His name is hallowed! He is not like us. He is God.
Submission – We are to seek His will. We are to be a part of His plan. He desires to use us to accomplish His plan to establish His Kingdom on earth.
Supplication – God is a God of provision. We can ask Him for what we need. Our daily bread takes many forms throughout the course of our lives.
Repentance – We are all sinners. We need His forgiveness. His grace at work in us should also be at work through us.
Direction – We need His wisdom and protection each day. We need His guiding hand to be at work in our lives.

Pray through the Lord’s Prayer. 



March 9, 2017
Matthew 6:19-34
A Royal Pursuit


If I am not careful, my entire life direction will be determined by my own pursuits. Once I surrender to my selfish desires, each day is a reflection of that decision.

For example, if I decide my ultimate goal in life is to be wealthy and I don’t care how I achieve it—then, my daily life will reflect that pursuit. I will be willing to abuse a system or people if it will work to my advantage.

So, today I invite you to consider your life pursuit. What do you hope to achieve in your life? What passions drive you? What is your life goal? What are you seeking first?

Our reading for today contains a wonderful invitation from Jesus. Focus on this invitation found in Matthew 6:33-34. Jesus challenges us to “seek God’s Kingdom first” and then trust God to be a God of provision.

Seeking God’s Kingdom first --- what does that mean? I think it means several things. First, it means that we understand our lives are about more than just accomplishing our own dreams. God has placed us on planet earth for a reason. He has eternal perspective to impart to us.

Once we understand that life is not just about achieving personal ambition, then we can begin the lifelong journey of seeking God’s perspective for our lives. What does God want from me? How has He uniquely gifted me to serve Him and others? What are the passions He has placed within me? How can they be used for His glory?

In other words, the invitation from Jesus is an invite to a life that matters. We can be rescued from self-centered living and be introduced to an entirely different dimension where God’s interests are paramount. We can connect our lives to eternal purposes and experience God’s provision for the same.

Wow. Ask God to give you wisdom to understand how to seek Him first.


March 10, 2017
Matthew 7
A Firm Foundation


“You’ve got foundation trouble.” If you are a homeowner, you never want to hear that assessment of your house! But, it happened to us. We were planning to place our house on the market in Huntsville and hired an inspector to evaluate our home. He called me and uttered those very words!

“What can I do?” I asked. He recommended a company to me and we signed a contract for the repairs to begin. Our house was a “pier and beam” house which meant the work was a bit easier. They installed some new beams and designed a connection system that stabilized our house and secured the strength of a good, solid foundation.

Whew! It cost a good bit of money. But, there was no hope of selling the house if we did not do the repair. Plus, who knows how much damage would have been caused if we had ignored the problem.

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with a powerful illustration. It is the well-known comparison between a house built on sand versus a house built on a rock. It has served for centuries now as one of the greatest conclusions to any sermon.

Jesus knew His followers were going to face troubling times. He knew storms would come. He cautioned them to accept His teachings and build them into their life. This would be like securing a strong foundation for a house. It will withstand the forces gathered against it.

This is still appropriate for us to consider today. We all have the freedom to decide what exists at the very core of our lives. We choose the foundation of our life. Jesus is inviting us to accept Him and place His authoritative teachings at the very bedrock of our lives. If we do that, we will be able to withstand the storms of life that inevitably will find their way to us.

What is the foundation of your life today?


March 11, 2017
Matthew 8:1-17
The Power of the Kingdom

When Jesus began preaching, He declared, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). In Matthew’s Gospel, he recorded the Sermon on the Mount (that we have just read in Matthew 5-7) that contains teachings about God’s Kingdom. How were people supposed to recognize God’s Kingdom?

Matthew 8 contains examples of the power associated with the Kingdom of God. In our reading for today, we discover that Jesus performed many miracles in connection with His authoritative teachings. In our specific text, Jesus chose to heal people from the margins: a leper, a Gentile and a woman.

There is much at play in this text. First—as I have mentioned, He chose to demonstrate the power of this new Kingdom in ways that people could understand. He healed people. However, interestingly, He chose those who were not in the mainstream of Jewish life. Lepers were cast out of communities and forced to live in isolation. Gentiles were certainly not a part of everyday Jewish society. And, women were not recognized in religious circles at all.

Jesus pours out the power of the Kingdom of Heaven on three individuals from these various marginalized sectors. He cleansed a leper and challenged him to keep it a secret. He marveled at the faith of a Gentile centurion who requested the healing of his servant. He then healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum.

God was breaking in the world through the life and ministry of His Son, Jesus. Demonstrations of power were now affirming the initiation of a new era of God’s agenda. The Kingdom of God was one where the power of God was to be on display.

What about today? Is God’s power still available?

I would say ---- absolutely! God is still delivering people from all manner of dis-ease. His healing touch is still in effect today. Ask God to reveal to you how His healing has affected you. It may not be in the physical realm, per se --- but, it might be. His power is on display in many ways today. Praise His Name!


March 12, 2017 - Sunday
A Royal Message
Matthew 5-7

Today’s sermon is a reflection upon the Sermon on the Mount. Obviously, Jesus covers a spectrum of topics in this sweeping sermon. Today, we will focus in on the acceptance of His authority in our lives.

If you would like to prepare for today’s message, take a few minutes and re-read Matthew 5-7. Ask God to speak to your heart as you reflect upon this powerful sermon. There may be a certain area where God is dealing with you as you do this. Submit yourself to His authority and ask for His grace to help you.
 

March 13, 2017
​Matthew 8:18-34
​A Savior in a Storm

Our text for today includes several famous stories and quotes from Jesus. In the opening section of our reading, Jesus challenged his hearers to follow Him with a radical decision of sacrifice and commitment. In the last section of our text today, Jesus heals 2 demoniacs in the region of the Gadarenes.

You will notice there are two demon-possessed men in this account. Mark and Luke tell this story with only one demoniac. Don’t let that bother you. Matthew must have had knowledge of another person in need of healing that day. The other two Gospel writers only refer to the one that spoke.

Sandwiched between these two stories is the famous account of Jesus calming the storm (Matthew 8:23-27). What a beautiful story! Here we read of Jesus demonstrating His power over creation.

The Sea of Galilee was famous for its beauty. It was a pleasant place to live in the ancient world. Obviously, the fishing industry was a major part of the ecosystem of that region of Israel. The men on the boat with Jesus that night were familiar with the lake. It was known to be a dangerous body of water during a sudden squall.

On this particular evening, a fierce storm made its way across the lake and these men were convinced they were going to die. They awakened Jesus and begged Him to save them. Jesus chastised them for their lack of faith. He then rebuked the storm and it subsided immediately. These disciples were astonished. They had never seen anyone with this kind of power.

Jesus demonstrated His divinity by revealing His authority over creation. These men were completely astonished. I love their response—“What kind of man is this?”

Jesus remains authoritative today. Creation obeys His voice. He is God the Son. In your life and in mine, other types of storms are going to blow into our lives. Let’s learn to call on Him and let Him bring a voice of calm in the midst of the squall. Take some time today to surrender your storm to Him.


March 14, 2017
Matthew 9:1-17
Follow Me

Each year, Curt Grice and I lead a Church History tour of Rome. The eternal city offers context for the study of western Christianity. It also is home to some of the most magnificent works of art in all the world.

We all have favorite artists. Who doesn’t appreciate the handiwork of Michelangelo or Raphael? I could spend hours just gazing at the artistry of these two geniuses. Another of my favorite artists is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. He was known as the master of realism and an expert in using the contrast of light and darkness in his paintings.

In the Contarelli Chapel of the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi hang three incredible portraits by Caravaggio. Each of them depicts a scene from the life of Matthew, the Apostle and the author of the Gospel that bears his name. Caravaggio attempted to capture the reality of the call of Matthew, the inspiration of Matthew and the martyrdom of Matthew on canvas. They are each spectacular.

In today’s text, we find the call of Matthew (Matthew 9:9-12). Mathew was a tax-collector for the Romans. Obviously, this was a hated profession for a Jew. Once again, it is a demonstration of the power associated with this new kingdom. Even a tax-collector was not out of reach for Jesus! The compelling call of the Gospel summoned this man out of a lucrative lifestyle to follow an itinerant evangelist. Matthew’s life would never be the same.

Certainly, the call of Jesus for Matthew was an immediate invitation to become a disciple. There were 12 of those. However, I believe God has a call for all of us. Each of us has a role to play in God’s Kingdom. And—Matthew serves as an example of the reach of the Gospel. God’s power is available for anyone. God’s call is for everyone.

How have you answered the call on your life? As you read this text today, take time to reflect upon God’s call for you. Where would He have you serve Him? In what arena will you be most effective?


March 15, 2017
Matthew 9:18-38
Lord of the Harvest

As we continue to read Matthew’s account of the life and witness of Jesus Christ, we observe the many expressions of power associated with Jesus. Lepers are cleansed, demon-possessed people are set free, the lame walk, etc. It is amazing!

In today’s reading, Jesus demonstrates His power over death itself! A synagogue leader expressed his grief to Jesus. His little girl had just died. He asked Jesus to bring her back to life! Wow! What faith!

Jesus traveled to this man’s home and raised his daughter from the dead. I love how Matthew adds this comment after that incredible miracle, “News of this spread through all that region.” I would imagine so!

In the closing section of our reading material today (Matthew 9:35-38), Matthew offers a summary of the ministry of Jesus at this point. He is teaching, preaching and performing unparalleled miracles. The chapter closes with a revealing word. Jesus looked at the world and realized there was so much lostness that many more workers would be needed to carry out His mission.

He instructed His followers to implore the Lord of the harvest to send more workers into the harvest field. Jesus cared about people during His time on earth. He knew they needed something far more profound than physical healing. He understood the eternal dimension of God’s Kingdom.

He still cares about people. The people of His world. Across the world, lost people live in these harvest fields. Many of them are ready to respond to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We just need workers to go. Let’s obey the voice of our Master and let’s pray that God will call people to take His message across our world to the unreached peoples of our planet.

Today – take some time to reflect upon how you can be used by God to make sure His Gospel is preached to the ends of the earth.


March 16, 2017
Matthew 10:1-15
Living the Gospel

Jesus decided to send his followers out into the harvest field known as the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:6). They were to announce the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived. As we have been reading, Jesus was establishing the Kingdom through His presence, His preaching and His power. Now, He will bestow that power and proclamation on His followers.

Most scholars draw a line of distinction at the end of verse 15. These first fifteen verses are generally understood to apply to this particular mission. Sent to the lost sheep of Israel, the disciples are to announce the arrival of the Kingdom and they will have the accompanying demonstrations of power that affirm the message.

In verse 16, the text seems to take a different turn. Jesus appears to be addressing the long-term ministry of these disciples once He has ascended to the Father. We will address that text tomorrow.

In today’s passage, notice the immediacy of the message. There is a sense of urgency in the voice of Jesus. He admonishes His disciples to not even take an extra bag with them. Just go!

You and I are called to go to the “lost sheep” of our communities as well. We should be living expressions of the Gospel in our neighborhoods and spheres of influence. The people we know. The people who are like us. The people who are familiar to us. We should sense an urgency to let them know that Jesus has come and everything has changed!

Today—let’s reflect upon the lost people in our realm. Who is God laying on your heart right now? Ask Him to direct you to someone who you know—who is ready to hear good news. Begin to pray for that person(s) today. Perhaps God will give you an opportunity to invite them to church during the Easter Season. This is a great opportunity to ask someone to come and visit.

I will be praying for you specifically today!

 
March 17, 2017
Matthew 10:16-42
The Cross Before Me

As I mentioned in our devotional yesterday, something changes in verse 16 of Matthew 10. There is a distinct shift of focus. Jesus is no longer just referring to the short-term Galilean mission of the disciples. Now, He is peering into the future. These disciples will be called upon to suffer for their faith. They will be tested. They will no longer just be among the lost sheep of Israel—they will be like “sheep among wolves.”

As we read today’s text, we are reminded of the difficulties experienced by those early disciples. They had the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. Tradition tells us that each disciple except John died a martyr’s death. However, John was banished from Ephesus and lived in exile until his death on the Isle of Patmos.

They were faithful to proclaim the truth regardless of the cost. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. Bartholomew was skinned alive. The stories go on and on. Since that time, history is filled with Christians who left the comfort of their homeland and carried the Gospel to the harvest field. It is also filled with the stories of the martyrs who remained faithful to Christ in the face of danger and persecution.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. There is much we don’t know about Patrick—and there is much legendary material built around him. But, the consensus is that he was a missionary to Ireland. He is generally credited with introducing Christianity to Ireland. His missional calling came at a great cost to him personally. He shares that in common with many other faithful witnesses.

Jesus put it all in perspective in Matthew 10:38-39. He has called all of us to live a life with the cross before us and the world behind us (as the hymn says). Our life is a crucified life and we follow a crucified Savior!

Today, reflect upon the faithful witness of those who have suffered for their faith through the years. Express your gratitude to God for them. Lift up those who are suffering today for their faith. Let’s also pray for those who have responded to the call to take the Gospel to the world.


March 18, 2017
Matthew 11:1-19
John the Baptist

Earlier in our journey, we encountered John the Baptist. He strikes quite an image in the Gospel story. He was the son of the elderly Zechariah and Elizabeth. His birth was miraculous and connected directly to the fulfillment of prophecy. Zechariah was clear in his grasp of this truth as he obeyed the angel who appeared to him and consequently he named his son, John.

John was to play a strategic role in this story. The Jews long believed God would send a forerunner in the spirit of Elijah to announce the dawning of the Messianic era. In Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3, God had promised to send this forerunner. In our text today, Jesus reminds His disciples and the crowds gathered to hear Him of that promise from God. He proclaimed that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of that prophecy.

John stood in the gap at a crucial time in history. He straddled the gap or stood at the intersection of the Old and New Testaments. He was a prophet in the Old Testament sense. However, he lived long enough to baptize the Messiah and participate in the initiation of a new era. He was a mighty man of God and Jesus loved him.

Years ago, several of us were leading a retreat for Fulani believers in West Africa. One of the believers had become (and remains) an evangelist to his people. The Fulani are fiercely Muslim so he has been a crucial part of our work among them. As we were sharing one night about our lives, this Fulani Christian shared the good news that he and his wife had recently had a baby boy. He was truly excited.

At the naming ceremony in his village, the chief asked him to share the name of the new son. Instead of choosing a traditional Islamic name, he boldly announced, “My son’s name is John the Baptist!” He went on to share how John had been the forerunner of Christ among the Jews. He shared his hope that his son would be the forerunner of Christ among the Fulani of West Africa!

Today, let’s pray for all of those who are sharing Jesus with their people across our world.


March 19, 2017 - Sunday
A Royal Journey
Matthew 8:18-22

Following Jesus is a costly enterprise. So often we try to make Christianity “more attractive” to folks. Actually, following Jesus is a journey of surrender and sacrifice. After all, He is our example.

Certainly, Jesus offers us the great blessing of knowing God personally and experiencing the blessing of both abundant and eternal life. However, God’s call on our lives is one that requires us to respond in obedience and humility. The blessings are indescribable and God is faithful to His children.


March 20, 2017
Matthew 11:20-30
Good News for the Weary

Sometimes we all get weighed down by life. Our circumstances can be overwhelming. The burdens of life can just be too . . . burdensome!

Years ago, I remember hearing a pastor tell the story of a Bible Study group he was leading in Manhattan. One of the members of the group was a physician. The group met on Monday evenings, I think. One night at the meeting the physician shared how hard the previous week had been. He said, “I always start the week so well. With good intentions. But by the end of the week I have just about forgotten all I have learned on Sunday and Monday. Manhattan can be such a debilitating place.”


So can Arlington. In fact, anywhere can be debilitating. Perhaps that is how you feel right now. Your life is caving in all around you. It may be that you are in a financial crisis. We all know how financial pressure can take its toll on us. Maybe it is a physical struggle. Bad news from a test or challenging treatment is needed.

It may be a family crisis. Broken relationships, painful memories, hurtful exchanges—all can leave families fractured and frazzled. Sometimes a harried schedule takes its toll on families. Lack of sleep, lack of quality time or sometimes too much time together can heighten stress levels in our homes.

Actually, there can just be a number of contributing factors to how you may be feeling right now. Maybe you are simply tired. Life tired.

There is good news! In our text today, Jesus invites us to come to Him when we are weary and burdened. Aren’t you glad to hear that? What an invitation. He invites us to connect our lives to His. He uses the imagery of being yoked together like two oxen plowing a field. He promises rest for our souls.

So—do you need that today? Ask Him for it. Ask Him to come alongside you and join you in your burden. He will do just that. You will find His strength to bring comfort to you. Give Him a chance to lighten your load. His yoke is easy and His burden is light.


March 21, 2017
Matthew 12:1-21
Lord of the Sabbath

The ministry of Jesus had gotten the attention of the “powers that be” in Jerusalem by this point in Matthew’s account. Evidently some Pharisees were prone to follow Jesus around just to see if they could discover something sinister afoot.

In our text today, Jesus and His disciples are walking on the Sabbath. Farmers were required to leave the edges of their fields un-harvested to allow for folks to just glean a “handful” of grain as they walked along. Jesus’s disciples did just that. However, it was on a Sabbath. The Pharisees who were with them quickly attacked Jesus over his inability to enforce the Law.

Jesus offered an interesting response. He quoted from the Writings, the Law and the Prophets in His answer. In other words, He was chiding the Pharisees for not knowing the Scriptures! Then, He healed a man on the Sabbath in the synagogue. Once again, He was striking at the heart of the burdensome teachings of the religious leaders of the day.

In the heart of the story, Jesus uttered an incredible statement, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8). Wow! What a direct claim to divinity. These leaders simply did not know what to do with Jesus!

Again—our theme for this study is 40 Days with The King. This passage is a great example of the Kingship of Jesus. He was not discounting the Law. In fact, just the opposite. He was leading people to re-connect with the purposes of the Law in the first place. The Law was given to help God’s people understand His nature and His will. It was a self-revelation of a holy God.

The Law was not intended to be a burden to the people. Jesus declared Himself to be sovereign over the Law. But He also was seeking to lead God’s people to understand the limitations of the Law and still appreciate its beauty.

Jesus is King. He is Lord. Take some time today to reflect upon His glory as King. He is Lord of the Sabbath. He is also Lord over us!


March 22, 2017
Matthew 12:22-37
Royal Power

There is a growing tension between Jesus and the Pharisees as this story unfolds. The miracles of Jesus had become too well-known to deny. The question now facing the Pharisees is the source of Jesus’s power. His power is self-evident. But, the question is, where did He get this kind of power?


In the passage for today, Jesus meets a demon-possessed man who is blind and mute. Miraculously, He heals him and he is immediately able to both see and talk. Once again, the crowd is truly amazed. “How does He do this?”

The Pharisees found themselves in a bind. If they tried to deny the miraculous power of Jesus, everyone would dismiss them. It was obvious Jesus had power. There were only two options: either Jesus was empowered by God or by Satan. So, they opted for the latter option.

Jesus was accused of commanding demons to obey Him by the power of the prince of demons Beelzebub (Satan). Here is the logic to that: The Pharisees did not want Jesus to get credit for having access to God’s power. So, the easiest solution for them was to accuse Him of using Satan’s power to impress the people.

Jesus answered these charges by going on the offensive. Look at verse 28—Jesus challenged the Pharisees and the people to consider what was at stake. He is claiming the Kingdom of God (phrase used only 4 times in this Gospel) has come. Then, in verse 30, Jesus boldly declares that He is King. Either folks are with Him or not!

This text is another example of the royal nature of the person and ministry of Jesus. He is the King who has come to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. He will not be stopped by accusations from religious leaders (ouch!). His power is from God, not Satan. He is at war with Satan. To refuse to acknowledge the work of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit is blasphemy (12:32). Relentless refusal of the work and leadership of the Spirit of God will lead to an unforgiven state. Jesus means business. He will not be deterred from His goal of accomplishing the purposes of God. He is King!


March 23, 2017
Matthew 12:38-50
A Royal Sign

The Pharisees just won’t quit! In our reading for today, the religious leaders demand to see a sign. Think about that for a moment. What more does He need to do? He has healed the lame, cleansed lepers, given sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and even raised the dead! Now these folks want a sign?

Jesus quickly chastised the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. He compared them to wicked generations and pagans from the past. He begins by referencing the ministry of Jonah. Jonah was called by God to preach to the city of Nineveh. His presence and proclamation was enough of a sign for the pagans in the city to repent.

Jesus concludes that judgment will be kinder to the pagans of Nineveh than to the Pharisees. He then claimed to be greater than Jonah. He went on to compare these leaders to the Queen of Sheba. Even she (a pagan ruler) was impressed by Solomon’s God in their Old Testament encounter. And—Jesus is quick to point out His superiority to Solomon.

He does agree to a sign, however. But, it is not the kind of sign these folks wanted. He used the story of Jonah in the belly of the fish to forecast His death and resurrection. This would be the sign. Indeed, it was a royal sign. Jesus would defeat death itself! What kind of King is He?

Catch the boldness of Jesus in this passage. Solomon was revered by the Jews because of his construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus had already caused some confusion with His claim to re-build the Temple in three days (John 2:18-21; Matthew 26:61). He was actually referring to His resurrection from the dead. The point is—He is claiming to be greater than Solomon and His Temple is an eschatological one! He also is claiming to be greater than the prophet Jonah.

History has proven Jesus right. He gave a sign about His resurrection from the dead. It came true. Another reason for you and I to honor Jesus today as our King!


March 24, 2017
Matthew 13:1-23
Kingdom Agriculture

A few years ago, Cindy and I had the privilege of visiting Israel for a few days. We spent a day in Capernaum—the site of many of the events of Matthew’s Gospel so far. We traveled on a boat across the Sea of Galilee. We stood on the shore where many scholars believe the teaching in today’s reading occurred.

We also visited Nazareth. There has been an archaeological discovery in Nazareth that has culminated in the reconstruction of a portion of this ancient village. Crops were growing on a hillside with stony paths cut between sections of the farms. As I was standing on that hilly part of Nazareth, I thought about this parable. It was easy to see how the casting of seeds could fall on various types of soil.

Jesus used the example of a farmer sowing seeds to teach His followers about the Kingdom of God. As the seed was scattered by the farmer, it fell on various types of soil. The hardened path was not receptive to the seed, so birds scooped up the seed. Soil among the stones close to the path quickly received the seed but the growth was temporary and shallow.

Some seed fell on ground not adequately prepared by the farmer. Unfortunately, thorns were also growing there and they eventually choked out the crop. Finally, there was good soil. It was receptive to the seed and produced a bumper crop.

Jesus used this story to teach spiritual truth. That is the point of parables. Jesus employed them often to challenge His hearers to think about the deeper meaning they represented. He was a master storyteller, so they were a natural vehicle for his teaching.

Today, you might want to reflect upon the soil of your soul. How receptive are you to the truths of the Gospel? Do you have shallow areas? Do you have hardened areas that just don’t respond to God’s truth? Is your soul crowded with thorns and thistles?

Take some time to reflect upon the “soil-type” of your soul today.


March 25, 2017
Matthew 13:24-43
Kingdom Agriculture (cont’d)


Jesus continued teaching His followers through parables. Today’s text includes three more famous parables: The Parable of the Weeds, The Parables of the Mustard Seed and The Yeast. Each of these contribute to our further understanding of the Kingdom.

The Parable of the Weeds is unusual (like the Parable of the Sower) in that Jesus offers His interpretation of it. As one of my seminary professors used to say, “If Jesus says, ‘This is the meaning of the parable,’ then that is the meaning of the parable!”

Jesus shares the parable in Matthew 13:24-30 and He explains it in 14:36-43. Again, a farmer sowed seed in his field. This time someone came along behind him and sowed weeds among the farmer’s wheat. Those weeds eventually sprouted and grew right alongside the wheat crop. The workers complained to the farmer about the quality of the seed. The farmer immediately realized his enemy had sown the seeds of the weeds. His instruction was to wait until the harvest to weed out the field.

Later in our text, Jesus interprets the meaning of the parable. The Son of Man is the sower, the field is the world and God’s people are the wheat. The enemy has placed evil people in the midst of God’s people in the world. Finally, the day of judgment will come and the evil will be punished.

Once again, this is a powerful teaching tool employed by Jesus. He takes the familiar (a farmer planting seed) to teach about the eternal truths of the Kingdom. This parable points to the eschatological age when God will judge everyone for their lives. It will be a day of reckoning. Evil will finally be punished for eternity.

At this time in history, it was easy for the Jews to believe the cards of history were stacked against them. The Romans were so powerful and it was easy to wonder if God had forgotten them. Jesus is reminding them that He is the Messiah, sent from God with a message of life and hope. Judgment will come soon enough. But now is the time to live fully and freely in this new Kingdom.


March 26, 2017 - Sunday
A Royal Invitation
Matthew 11:28-30

It is so easy to fall into the trap of bearing all our burdens. We can all be so self-sufficient. Quickly, life can become very challenging and we can become weary. Our steps are heavy and our hearts are as well.

Jesus understands. He extended an incredible invitation in Matthew 11:28-30. Today, in this sermon, we will explore the rest for our souls promised by Jesus.

 
March 27, 2017
Matthew 13:44-58
Family Reunions

Jesus had preached in Nazareth earlier in His ministry. Luke records an instance where He claimed to be the fulfillment of a famous Messianic prophecy from the book of Isaiah (Luke 4:14-30). Jesus also shared that the message of the Gospel would extend to the Gentiles. This was not well-received, to say the least! They drove Him out of the synagogue and tried to kill Him!

Matthew records another trip to Nazareth in today’s reading (Matthew 13:54). For some reason, Jesus decided to go home. His family was there. His mother Mary and His siblings, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas and unnamed sisters. We don’t know much about the family of Jesus. There is testimony from Scripture and tradition about James and Judas. We believe James became the pastor of the church at Jerusalem and the author of James in our New Testament. Judas is traditionally accepted as the author of Jude in our New Testament as well.

In any event, Jesus returned home. He also returned to His home synagogue. He was now a well-known teacher and miracle worker. They had heard about His teaching and His many miracles. They were puzzled by it all. After all, wasn’t this the boy who was reared in His father’s carpenter shop in Nazareth? How could He possibly be any more than they remembered Him to be? Couldn’t be possible.

Notice verse 57. The people “took offense” at Him. That translates the Greek word, skandalizo. We get the English word “scandal” from this Greek root. It means “road-block” or “stumbling-block” in Greek. Their view of Jesus was an obstacle to faith. They just couldn’t believe in Him! Consequently, He did not perform miracles in Nazareth after this reception.

We don’t know how His family responded, per se. However, there is no indication they believed in Him either. With the exception of Mary, His family was not able to take a step of faith until after the resurrection.

Family reunions are not always pleasant—even for Jesus! Take heart, if you have had similar family experiences. The power of the Gospel would transform James and Judas. Maybe today is a time for you to pray for your family.


March 28, 2017
Matthew 14:1-21
A Royal Dinner


Our reading today shares the sad story of the senseless murder of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod Antipas. Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and he had stolen his wife Herodias, from his half-brother Herod Philip I. On his birthday, Herod Antipas threw a big party and his step-daughter asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. He delivered the head of John to the girl and she gave it to her mother. A dastardly deed, indeed.

Just after this, Matthew recounts a story of a different kind of royal dinner. After His rejection in Nazareth and John’s death at the hand of Herod, Jesus returns to Galilee. Matthew 14:13-21 records the miraculous feeding of 5,000 men, plus women and children. This miracle is found in all four Gospels.

Jesus was at the end of a busy day. A huge crowd had gathered (maybe 10,000 or so). He had spent the day ministering to the needs of the people. Finally, as evening approached, they were hungry. The disciples realized they did not have enough food to feed such a crowd. They only had one lunch between them all!

Jesus took the minimal resources they possessed and performed a miracle of bounty. He thanked God for what He had, blessed it and began serving food. You know what happened. Everybody ate until they were full and there were twelve baskets of leftovers! Wow!

Jesus is continuing to establish Himself as the King of God’s Kingdom. This was an unforgettable royal dinner! Many Jews believed the Messiah would provide manna like Moses in a miraculous display of power. Perhaps Jesus had this in mind on that hillside.

Do you ever find yourself in a place of great need? And—you don’t have the resources you need? Jesus is an expert in what to do in that very circumstance. I am not a “name it/claim it” kind of preacher. However, I do believe that Jesus provides in miraculous ways for His followers today sometimes. I know He cares about us. I know He is paying attention. Maybe today, you need to give Him your five loaves and two fish and stand back and watch!


March 29, 2017
Matthew 14:22-36
The Son of God

While we were visiting Galilee, we took a boat ride on the lake. After an hour or so on the lake, our guide brought the boat to a stop. He asked us to read the passage from today’s reading. We read the story of Jesus walking on the water. Our guide said, “There is no way to know for sure, but this is the traditional area where we believe Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee.”

I sat there for a few minutes in silence. We all did. Wow. It was almost surreal. I was trying to imagine what it must have been like for those disciples early that morning. They had set out across the lake at Jesus’s instruction. They had fought against the waves and the wind. It had been a long and memorable day.

Then, in the distance, they saw something. It was moving. They were terrified. Jesus called out, “Take courage. It is I (I am in Greek). Don’t be afraid.”

I sat there that day and re-read this story. I gazed out across the lake and tried to put myself in the place of those men. And then, it hit me. Peter jumped out of the boat! I hadn’t thought much about that before. I have read the story many times. I have preached sermons on this passage. But, for some reason, that day it became real to me.

I leaned over the edge of our boat and wondered—would I have done it? Would I have asked Jesus to let me walk on water? Would I have had enough faith?

It is easy to condemn Peter for sinking. But, we have to give him credit for jumping out of the boat and walking toward Jesus. What a story!

Afterwards, the disciples gathered in the boat and declared to Jesus, “Truly you are the Son of God.” They worshiped Him.

Do you need to be reminded today that Jesus is the Son of God? He is not just a great teacher, humanitarian and gentle philosopher. He is the Son of the Living God. He is the Word made flesh. He is Immanuel. He is God with us. He is sovereign over His creation. He is worthy of our worship and our adulation. He is worthy of our faith. He is worthy of our life investment in His Kingdom. Let’s bow before Him and worship Him today!


March 30, 2017
Matthew 15
A Royal Gospel

Jesus withdrew to another region around Galilee in Matthew 15:21. He traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon. These were two Gentile cities in northwest Philistia and Phoenicia. They were mentioned often in the Old Testament and infamous for pagan practices and the worship of Baal.

This particular area around Galilee was heavily populated with Gentiles. Before Jesus begins His journey to Jerusalem, He wanted to send a message of hope to the Gentiles. Matthew records this for us in Matthew 15:21-31. Notice in verses 29-31 these Gentiles received the healing ministry of Jesus. They responded by praising the God of Israel!

In the midst of this season of ministry, Jesus encountered an intriguing pagan woman. She followed Jesus and cried out to Him for help. Her daughter was demon-possessed and suffering tremendously. She demonstrated some knowledge of Messianic prophecy by calling Jesus, “Son of David” (Matthew 15:22). In this curious story, Jesus began by ignoring her. He finally surmised, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

It seems that Jesus was testing her. Obviously, the Gospel was for the Jew first and then the Gentile. Paul will make this very clear. Jesus was a Messiah for the Jews. However, Jesus had already made it clear that His message was to be proclaimed among the Gentiles.

In this story, the exchange between Jesus and this woman continues in an intriguing fashion. Finally, she presses Jesus until He admits to her that there is good news for the Gentiles. In fact, He praised her for her faith and He healed her daughter.

This Gospel is a royal one. It is for everyone. Jesus is the Messiah—but He is also the King. His Kingdom is advancing and knows no ethnic boundaries. He is King for Jews and Gentiles! He is the Savior of the world. His disciples had to learn this in real time. You and I are the beneficiaries of this beautiful Gospel today. May we proclaim it to all without hindrance!


March 31, 2017
Matthew 16
To Jerusalem

Our reading today marks a significant shift in the ministry of Jesus. Certainly, Jesus had touched upon the subject of His death before, however there is a marked intentionality now. In Matthew 16:21, Jesus speaks directly and openly about His future in Jerusalem. He has about six months left to live and He needs to prepare His disciples for His impending death.

Let’s focus today on Matthew 16:21-28. There is a note of triumph in the midst of the tragic announcement from Jesus. He will be killed—but He will be raised to life. Peter responded immediately to the revelation from Jesus. In very strong terms in the Greek text (actually a double negative), Peter rebuked Jesus! “This can’t happen!”

Peter is not the only person to desire a cross-less Christ. There are still those around today who do not like to acknowledge the cross. I was reared with a pretty significant anti-Roman Catholic bias. I can remember being taught that a crucifix was not appropriate. Today, while I don’t ascribe any powers to an icon, I do believe we need to see depictions of Jesus on the cross. For many Protestants, Jesus is not on a cross and perhaps never has been!

Jesus responds to Peter’s rebuke with a stern rebuke of His own. He recognizes the voice of Satan in Peter’s perspective. Jesus is not going to be deterred from His purpose. He has come to be the Savior of the world. He will die a sinner’s death on a sinner’s cross for all sinners!

Jesus goes on to elaborate on the importance of a cross in discipleship for His followers. He challenged them (and us) to take up our own cross and follow Him. He calls His followers to a death to self-reliance and independence. He calls us to a life that is totally dependent on Him. The health and fate of our souls depend on this decision.

This passage marks a turn in the story. Jesus has now set His sights on Jerusalem (compare Luke 9:51). He is going to fulfill all righteousness. He will obey the Father each and every step. He is an inspiration to all of us.

Take some time today to reflect upon the journey for Jesus to Jerusalem.


April 1, 2017
Matthew 17
The Glory of the King

As I am writing these words, I have just returned from my annual trip to Rome. This past trip marks my 10th consecutive year to visit the eternal city. Each year we always visit the Vatican Museum. It contains the greatest treasury of art in the world. One of my favorite places in the museum is known as the Raphael Rooms. On display in these rooms is the artistry of the master painter, Raphael. Just prior to entering those rooms, we always stop in the gallery that displays his famous depiction of the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is his final painting and represents him at his finest.

Raphael used an incredible contrast of light and dark to try to communicate the glory of Christ on the mountain that day. Matthew tells us that Jesus’s face shone like the sun and His garments became as white as light. Then, in an unforgettable experience for Peter, James and John—Moses and Elijah appeared! These two men represented the Law and the Prophets. How appropriate that they should appear with Jesus.

This experience offered the disciples of the inner circle a glimpse of the glory of Christ. This light was not shining upon Jesus—it was emerging from within Jesus. Here is an example of His divinity shining forth for His close friends to see. As the writer of Hebrews would put it, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3).

As we are preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter this year, it is appropriate for us to pause and reflect upon the glory of Jesus. He is God in the flesh. We have all been called to reflect the glory of God in our lives. Jesus did that perfectly. He is the greatest example of God’s glory on display through the life of a human being.

In his Gospel, John referred to this when he wrote, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Today, take some time to reflect on the glory of Christ. Read this account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Thank Him for being an obedient Savior in Whom God’s glory has been revealed.


April 2, 2017 - Sunday
A Royal Community
Matthew 16:13-20

This pivotal passage is core to my understanding of the Church. Jesus founded the Church. He has promised its success. He sets the purpose for it.

In this sermon, we will celebrate the beauty and majesty of the church. We will take the time to reflect together on the nature of the community of faith envisioned by Jesus.


April 3, 2017
Matthew 18
The Art of Forgiveness

One of the hardest things to do is forgive others. Some of us are better at it than others. For many people, though, it is very difficult to accomplish. The Bible has much to say about forgiveness. Obviously, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus mentions forgiveness. He connects our request for God to forgive us with our willingness to forgive others.

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus explains to His followers how forgiveness works in the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter initiates the conversation with his question in verse 21—“How many times should I forgive?” Jesus responded to Peter with a memorable parable.

Jesus told of a king who was settling his accounts when he came across a servant who owed him 10,000 talents. The NIV translates this as “ten thousand bags of gold.” To put it into perspective, one talent was equal to about 20 years of a day laborers wage. In other words, this is an astronomical figure! It was a debt that no one could ever pay. And yet, the king forgave it.

Then this servant went out and tried to collect a small amount that was owed to him. Instead of remembering the grace he had received and following the lead of the king, he had his debtor thrown in jail! Remarkable! The servant could have expressed his gratitude for being forgiven a huge debt by forgiving a small debt. Instead, he chose to be unforgiving.

The king heard about it and had the servant thrown in prison. There was no hope for him now. Jesus used this parable to challenge His followers to learn how to be merciful. His point was that we have received so much mercy from God, surely we can show mercy to others.

Read verse 35 again. Jesus is describing how life in His new Kingdom should be. We have received grace and mercy from God. Our experience with Christ should transform us from the inside out. Our behavior should reflect that transformation.

Are you having trouble forgiving? Ask God today to give you the grace to acknowledge His forgiveness of you in how you forgive others.


April 4, 2017
Matthew 19
A Royal Encounter

Jesus met all kinds of people during His earthly ministry. On His way to Jerusalem, a young man approached Jesus with an interesting question, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16).

All three Synoptic Gospels record this particular encounter. In Mark, he is just referred to as a “man.” In Luke, he is designated as a “ruler.” Putting all three accounts together, we can determine he was a rich, young ruler.

So, this rich, young ruler wanted to know how to obtain eternal life. Jesus responded by turning him toward the commandments. Jesus challenged him to demonstrate his love for God through obeying what God expected. The young man replied that he had been doing just that. What else could he do?

Jesus realized the heart of the man’s issue was his love for wealth. This had become an obstacle in his spiritual journey. Thus, Jesus issued His famous challenge to the rich, young ruler, “Go, sell everything you have. Give the proceeds to the poor. Then, come and follow me.” That was too much for this young man. He was too dependent on his wealth.

This encounter led to a lengthy discussion between Jesus and His disciples about who was eligible for eternal life. I think the heart of this story has to do with what lies at the core of our lives. Jesus seemed to have struck a nerve with this young man. At the very core of his life was his pursuit of earthly wealth. There is nothing inherently wrong with being wealthy from an earthly perspective. However, if we lose perspective and determine that is the ONLY thing that matters—then we are in trouble.

As usual, Jesus was addressing matters of the heart. What is inside of us will eventually be manifested in external ways. If we are only interested in earthly gain, we may be willing to be unscrupulous to get it. We may not even recognize how much we have lost our way.

Again, Jesus is challenging His followers to check their hearts. Today may be a good day to check ours!

 
April 5, 2017
Matthew 20
A Royal Lesson

Jesus is now approaching Jerusalem. The disciples seem to know something is different about this trip to the Holy City (Mark 10:32). There is a certain level of intensity present among them. Jesus has been challenging them to quit focusing on rewards and privilege (Matthew 19:30; 20:16).

Despite the teachings of Jesus, James and John decided to register a bold request. In Matthew’s account, their mother joins them in the ask. What do they want? To rule alongside Jesus in His new Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28).

Many scholars believe the best reading of the Gospels indicate that Zebedee’s wife was Salome, the sister of Mary. This would make James and John first cousins to Jesus. Thus, the context of this request was familial. Surely if Jesus was about to establish the Kingdom of Israel, His cousins would rule alongside Him. Peter had already been rebuked by Jesus at this point, so these two sons remained as members of the inner circle.

Jesus challenged them to consider their request. He was about to enter Jerusalem to die. There would be two people on either side of Him—on crosses! But, these two men were determined they could take on the same cup as Jesus. Of course, they did not know what was about to happen!

In any event, the other disciples heard about it and were very angry. This probably explains why none of them were willing to take on the servant role of foot-washing at the celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem the next week (John 13). But, Jesus used this request to teach His followers a valuable lesson that we continue to need today.

Following Jesus is not about rewards and position. We are not on this journey to feather our own nest or secure our rewards. We are not to be jockeying for first place in line. Jesus is challenging us to serve Him with a full and sincere heart. We are to follow His example (Matthew 20:25-28). He came to serve. We should be willing to serve Him and others without worrying about our personal gain.

Today, ask God to help you serve Him with a sincere and pure heart.


April 6, 2017
Matthew 21:1-22
His Father’s Business

Luke’s Gospel contains the account of Jesus visiting the Temple as a young adolescent (Luke 2:41-52). In this familiar story, the boy Jesus remains behind in Jerusalem after His parents began their return to Nazareth. After a frantic search in the Holy City for Him, they found Jesus in the Temple courts, engaged in a conversation with the teachers of the Law. Upon quizzing Him about His whereabouts, Jesus famously replied, “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).

Now, in the final week of His life, Jesus has returned to Jerusalem. He has a royal welcome (Matthew 21:1-11). Jesus entered the city on Sunday (Palm Sunday). Matthew doesn’t provide the full account of all Jesus did that week. We have to refer to the other Gospels to get a better sense of the timeline. Jesus arrived on Sunday and visited the Temple. He left Jerusalem and went to Bethany to spend the night. He came back to Jerusalem on Monday morning and paid a visit to the Temple. After all, He had to be about His Father’s business!

We read of this Temple visit in Matthew 21:12-17. This entire chapter is devoted to the judgment of Jesus on the religious leaders of Israel. They had corrupted the teachings of God and imposed unnecessary burdens on the backs of the people. Jesus called them to task. In this chapter, He engages in two powerful acts of symbolism that embody His judgment of these leaders: cursing a fig tree and cleansing the Temple. Let’s focus on the latter.

Jesus entered the outer courts of the Temple and observed the transactions overseen by the priests. They had their own animals and currency that had to be used in Temple activities by Jewish pilgrims. They would refuse the animals of the pilgrims and require them to purchase theirs. They had strict regulations about Jewish currency. They exchanged currency at exorbitant rates. You get the picture.

Jesus took action. He overturned the tables. He proclaimed His judgment that this house was to be a place of prayer for the nations. It was not to be an enterprise for the advancement of the priests’ interest. In our day, let the church be reminded that we can’t afford to lose our way either!


April 7, 2017
Matthew 21:23-46
Royal Authority

Just to give you a sense of the timeline again, our reading today records events from Tuesday morning of Holy Week. Remember the backdrop of this text. Jesus had just cursed a fig tree and cleansed the Temple. Just after Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple, he healed the blind and the lame who were brought to Him in the Temple (Matthew 21:14). What a contrast! The priests were taking advantage of the people and Jesus was ministering to their needs!

In our text today, the priests begin to challenge the authority of Jesus. Notice, the priests have moved to the front of the line ahead of the Pharisees in the attacks against Jesus. Jerusalem belonged to the priests (Sadducees). They were the ruling class and oversaw the operations of the Temple. Jesus was now viewed as leading a cause that threatened the authority and place of the Temple in Jewish life. So, they asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23).

Jesus gave a brilliant answer and followed it up with two piercing parables. Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist. His ministry was accepted by the people to be of God and his popularity had only increased after his martyrdom. So, Jesus answered their question with a question about John’s authority. Was it from heaven or was it by human authority? The priests were caught and they knew it. They had no answer. So, Jesus refused their question. But, He indicted them with the next two parables: the Parable of the Two Sons and the Parable of the Tenants.

Read through this section of Scripture. Take time to reflect upon what is at play here. Two authorities are colliding. Jesus and the religious leaders. Both of them should have received their authority from God. However, the priests had abused their power and their corruption was obvious to everyone but themselves! They were profiting from their positions of authority. Jesus represented true authority. Heavenly authority. Royal authority.

God is at work in you today to prepare you to celebrate Easter. You are approaching Holy Week. Today is a good day to ask Him to help you evaluate your motives in all you do. How do you exercise power and authority?


April 8, 2017
Matthew 22
A Royal Commandment

In today’s reading, we are still on Tuesday in the final week of the earthly life of Jesus. You can feel the tension mounting between Jesus and the religious leaders. The Pharisees are working alongside the priests to discredit Jesus. Notice verses 15, 23 and 34 in particular. It is an all-out attack on this teacher from Nazareth. The people remain curious about Jesus (Matthew 22:22, 33, 46).

Jesus remained resolute throughout it all. He was already on trial and He knew it. He refused to be pulled away from His message or His mission. He also refused to shy away from condemning the damaging effects of corrupt leadership among the people of God.

In the midst of this tense day, a legal expert asked Jesus a penetrating and potentially volatile question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36). At this time in history, scholars like this one had divided the Law into two major categories: heavy and light. There were 248 affirmative precepts and 365 negative precepts—for a total of 613 laws which corresponded to the number of letters in the 10 Commandments.

I’m sure Jesus was aware of all these designations. This lawyer is not looking for a genuine answer. He is testing Jesus’s knowledge of the Law itself. Jesus looked past the system of teachings the leaders had developed and went right to the heart of the Law itself. I love it! Jesus pointed everyone to the very core of God’s revelation of Himself: Love God and love each other!

That’s it. Jesus challenged his hearers that day to get back to the basics of what God wanted from them. He did not want them to miss what God was after. He wants His people to love Him first and then love each other. The rest of the Law hinges on these two commands.

Once again, Jesus demonstrated His brilliance, His grasp of all things holy and His unique ability to communicate with absolute clarity. We read His words today—years and miles removed from that Tuesday in Jerusalem. And yet, His words ring just as true in our day. Love God! Love each other!


Palm Sunday 2017
A Royal Redeemer
Matthew 21:1-11

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week. Across the Western Church, Christians will begin this annual journey together by celebrating the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

In this message today, we will focus on the royalty of our Savior, Jesus Christ—Son of Man, Son of David, Son of God.


Holy Monday 2017
Matthew 23
A Royal Reminder

The final week in the life of Jesus was filled with all manner of intrigue and intersections. After being greeted in Jerusalem by the masses and hailed as the Son of David, Jesus will be tried on Thursday and killed on Friday. What a remarkable turn of events! Jesus will encounter all types of people this week. There were machinations at work behind the scenes that were revealed later that led to the cataclysmic events on Friday.

We have been faithfully led by Matthew on our journey. He has presented Jesus as King. He is King of the Jews. He is sovereign over creation. He is sovereign over the dominion of evil. He is King of all.

We have learned some valuable lessons along the way, I hope! We have observed Jesus in all manner of situations. We have sat at His feet and listened to Him teach. We have witnessed the incredible display of His power. There has never been anyone like Jesus!

As we read today’s text, His voice sounds harsh and His judgments are pronounced. That is all true. But, He was confronting something that we need to all keep in mind. God has placed His truths into the hands of His people so that everyone will have the opportunity to know Him. He is never happy when God’s people lose sight of their purpose and His mission.

As you listen to the voice of Jesus in this text today, take some time to reflect upon the Church today. Are we guilty of standing in the path of sinners finding their way to God? Are we being faithful to the ways of God? Are we placing unnecessary requirements upon people that hinder their ability to find their way to Him?

I’m not saying we are as guilty as the Pharisees. I’m only saying that we should not be so quick to judge those religious leaders. Jesus is offering a reminder to us today. We have been blessed tremendously by the Gospel. God has given us so much. We have much to share with others. We are Gods’ emissaries to the world. His blessings should flow through us to others.

BLESSED PEOPLE BLESS PEOPLE!


Holy Tuesday 2017
Matthew 24
A Royal Promise

The events in our text today transpire at the end of the day on Tuesday in Jerusalem. Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley and was sitting at the Mount of Olives with the Temple clear in sight across the way. His message to His disciples was powerful and startling.

First, He predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. This occurred in AD 70 when the Roman general Titus destroyed the Holy City. He plundered the Temple and burned it to the ground. He carried the goods of Jerusalem with him as he led a huge number of Jewish captives home to Rome. His processional is captured artistically on the Arch of Titus that still stands in the Roman Forum today.

Then, Jesus’s eyes begin to gaze across the ages beyond the dastardly work of the Roman army. His vision reached the end of time. He promises the return of the Son of Man to the earth in a glorious processional unparalleled by any human comparison. The Son of Man will return victoriously in power and great glory and God’s Kingdom will finally be consummated on earth.

Much will happen before the end comes. Jesus mentioned the proclamation of the Gospel to the nations (Matthew 24:14), false messiahs will arise and false prophets will prophesy. But, the end will come. No one knows when the end will come (Matthew 24:36). Only God possesses this valuable piece of information.

But, the end will come. We must be ready. We must live fully until He comes. We must be engaged in the work of the Kingdom and extending its reach until the King of Glory returns. Jesus instructed His followers to be diligent and keep watch until He returns (Matthew 24:42).

Today, we are one day closer to the end than yesterday. We don’t know when Christ will return, but we do know that He will return. He has promised us. Until that day comes, let’s you and I be faithful in serving our Lord. Let’s be faithful in proclaiming the Gospel to the nations. Let’s be on watch in our own lives. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

 
Holy Wednesday 2017
Matthew 25
A Royal Assignment

The days are drawing near now. For us, it is Wednesday of Holy Week. We are sensing the heightening of the drama of this week. Again, Christians across the world have turned their faces toward Jerusalem. The Scripture reveals that this is the day Judas plotted to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16).

In our reading for today, Jesus continues to offer final instructions to His disciples. He knew His days were coming to a close from an earthly perspective. He was about to face the trial of His life. He packed a great deal of insight and wisdom into these final days.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus gave all of us a royal assignment. He paints an incredible portrait of the end of time. The Son of Man has returned and is enthroned in glory (Matthew 25:31). All the nations are before Him. The time of judgment is about to begin. It is a breathtaking scene.

Then, Jesus offers His assignment. We are to serve people—genuinely, authentically and purely. This is a sign that we have experienced the inner transformation He has been proclaiming all along. When the power of the Gospel is at work within us, we will be transformed into mature believers who are interested in the things that please God. We will not be self-serving, egocentric, immature people who live life independently of God. Rather, we will sense God’s direction in our everyday lives and we will respond accordingly.

So, Jesus describes a memorable image for all of us. He will separate the sheep from the goats. He will pronounce some as blessed and some as cursed. Those who are blessed are those I have already described. Transformed by the power of the Gospel within them, they become known by their good deeds. They are meeting people’s needs, visiting them when they are sick, taking them in when they are desolate and clothing them when they are vulnerable and at risk.

There is much good to do in this world. We are on assignment as God’s people. We are to be responsive to the needs of others. In fact, Jesus teaches us in this text today that when we share this type of love and compassion with others—it is just like sharing our love and compassion with Him!

 
Maundy Thursday 2017
Matthew 26
A Royal Memory

This day of Holy Week received its name from the mandate found in John 13:34-35 where Jesus commanded His disciples to love each other. This is known as the mandatum in Latin or the “mandate” in English. Hence the designation, “Maundy” for this day on the Christian calendar.

Jesus had a special room prepared for His final night with His disciples. It was the Passover. Jews from across the world were in town for the festivities. Jesus had been in Jerusalem for Passover many times, I’m sure. This time—it was different.

He huddled with His disciples on that fateful night. Again, the air was filled with intrigue and intersections. Before this night was over, Jesus will have been betrayed to the authorities and the disciples will be scattered and hiding in fear. Jesus would be in the hands of the very people He had been condemning all week. It was a fateful night, indeed.

While they were gathered around the table, Jesus established what has become known as The Lord’s Supper. He took bread and looked at His disciples and said, “Take and eat: this is my body.” He took the cup and instructed them to drink from it and it was His blood which would be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

In Luke’s account, we are further told that Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). Ever since that night, Christians have gathered together to take the bread and wine in memory of Jesus.

For us, as Baptists, we belong to the part of the Christian family who understands these elements to be symbolic or representative. We do not believe the bread or wine is mysteriously transformed upon a blessing from the pastor. Rather, we believe the bread reminds us of the body of our Lord. It is a reminder He lived a real life in a real body. The wine symbolizes the blood of Jesus that was shed so that we might be forgiven for our sin.

The Lord’s Supper is a powerful memory that points to a day of greater fulfillment. We proclaim His death until He comes again.


Good Friday 2017
Matthew 27
A Humble Savior

Thursday night spilled over into Friday morning in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin had convened to condemn Him. Caiaphas was quick to pronounce judgment upon Jesus and label Him a blasphemer. At daybreak, they decided to send Jesus to Pilate for final judgment.

It’s hard to read. Our text today is both riveting and repulsive. It is the sordid story of abusive leaders exercising power and displaying corruption. Jesus seems to be a pawn in their hands. The leaders of God’s people have bound and beaten the Son of God! Then, they lead Him to a pagan ruler who has no understanding of the gravity of the moment.

Pilate began to realize the seriousness of the trial. He also recognized the trickery of the Jewish leaders. He tried to pawn Jesus off on the crowd. He received a startling message from his wife. Finally, he relented and delivered Jesus over to be crucified—but not before attempting to wash his hands of the entire ordeal.

He will forever be known after this as the Roman leader who condemned Jesus Christ to death on a cross. His name lives on in infamy today.

Today, however, our focus is on Jesus. He is led like a lamb to slaughter. He allows the events to unfold even though He possessed the power to drastically alter them. He chooses the path of obedience for the good of humanity. The writer of Hebrews put it like this, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 11:2).

Today, let’s stand before the cross. Our Savior is nailed to that cross. His humility never more on display than today. The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords—hangs suspended between two common thieves. His blood-stained body has become the greatest sacrifice of all time. The Lamb of God.

We stand before this cross in silence. O Sacred Head, now wounded.

 
Holy Saturday 2017
Reflection
Low in the Grave He Lay

Joseph of Arimathea paid a special visit to Pilate on Friday. He requested the body of our Lord. We learn from John’s Gospel that Nicodemus was with him and assisted in the burial (John 38-42).

It has come to this. An angelic announcement to Mary and Joseph resulted in the miraculous birth of a baby boy. Joseph was told by the angel, “You are to give Him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). That seems like a distant memory now. The journey to Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, the flight to Egypt—it all seems like the distant past.

Jesus appeared in the Judean desert to be baptized by the most famous Baptist ever! He launched a ministry that led Him across Israel. His sermons were often packed with thousands of people straining to hear His message. Who knows how many benefitted from His miraculous touch? His band of followers had become a close-knit group of folks who became eye-witnesses to the most incredible life in the history of the human family.

But—for now, that voice had been silenced. A mock trial. A hasty judgment. A pagan Roman procurator. Roman soldiers. Death by crucifixion. A borrowed tomb. Scattered followers.

We stand today in silence.

Saturday is the quietest day in history.

Easter Sunday marks the end of our 40 Days with The King journey. I have concluded the series with this sermon:


Easter Sunday 2017
A Royal Commission
Matthew 28

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said!”

          -An Angel

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

          -Jesus

In this message today, we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of Man and Son of David. And—we will acknowledge His authority. He is King! And—we will accept His commission!



Daily Bible Readings
The New Testament has much to say about the Gospel. It is good news! The message of the Gospel is contextualized by The Big Story. God is at work in our world to accomplish His mission. We are His ambassadors as we have been called to share this good news with our world. This week, we are reading texts that address various facets of the Gospel. We are anticipating hosting Dr. Scot McKnight as our guest for next weekend!

April 17:     1 Corinthians 15
April 18:     Galatians 2:11-21
April 19:     Ephesians 2
April 20:     Colossians 1:18-2:5
April 21:     1 Timothy 1:1-17
April 22:     Reflection

40 Days with The King
March 1 – April 16, 2017