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Our DAILY GOSPEL DEVOTIONAL is the story of Jesus from Incarnation to Ascension. This is a chronology and harmony of the gospel accounts in which the ongoing narrative and doctrinal context are carefully considered. In one year we reflect on every passage of every gospel.
May God bless you as we follow the disciples on the journey through the earthly life of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Waiting and working

Luke 19:11-27…

Many thought that since Jesus was heading for Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51) this meant the kingdom of God was about to be ushered in. The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem did present Israel with their Messiah, but it would not be until sometime later that the kingdom of God would be established. Indeed, we still await the coming of that kingdom.

Jesus had spoken to His disciples about His rejection, suffering, and death at Jerusalem (Luke 18:31-34), but they did not understand at that time. What Jesus had said to Zacchaeus (Luke 19:9-10) only intensified their expectations. In light of the Old Testament teaching it was understandable why (Isaiah 40:9 / Jeremiah 3:17, 33:16 / Joel 2:32, 3:16-17 / Micah 4:2 / Zechariah 8:3, 9:9, 13:1, 14:4, 14:8). They anticipated the immediate commencement of the kingdom (cf. Acts 1:6-11).  While Jesus taught that we should desire the kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10 / Luke 18:1-8), He told this parable to correct wrong conclusions about the way people held these convictions.

In the story a wealthy man was going away to be anointed as king, and would be gone for a while. For the meantime, he gave some of his servants a sum of money, instructing them to do business until he returned. The citizens of the area were not fond of the wealthy man and sent word that they did not want him to return at all.
When the man returned as king, he sent for the servants to give an account of what they had gained. One did very well, obtaining a tenfold return. Another also did well, securing a fivefold return. Both were rewarded and made rulers in proportion to their faithfulness.

A third servant had no increase at all because he hid the money away, and so in a sense lost money that could have been earned. This servant personifies the problem which our Lord is addressing, the lack of faithful obedience. The wicked servant lost the rewards that could have been his, and they were given to the servant who had proven most diligent. If he was truly fearful of his master, he would have used the time he had to be obedient, not complacent.

The master’s final act was to deal with the rebellious citizens who rejected him. These enemies represent those Jews who would reject Jesus as their Messiah.

The departure to a distant land and later return of the king signaled a time delay in the arrival of the kingdom of God. Jesus had to go up to heaven to be crowned king (cf. Philippians 2:9-11), and the delay of the kingdom provided a time for the king’s servants to be tested. Their faithfulness in serving Him will be the basis of their rewards in the kingdom.

Christians must live with intention and also with investment. Christ could return tomorrow, but His return may not be as soon as we think or hope. We need both a short-term and a long-term view of life and ministry, living for today by having an eye for tomorrow. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Short sighted

Luke 19:1-10…

Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus but he can’t, partly because of the crowd, but also because he was short. He was also hated. The tax collectors were despised because they were collecting money from other Jews and giving it to the Roman government. More than that, they were allowed to exact a tribute on top of the tax that they could keep for themselves. They got rich off their own people’s backs. Furthermore, Zacchaeus had other tax collectors under him, and so no doubt, he was among the wealthiest men of the region.

It may have seemed quite undignified for him to climb that tree, and certainly it invited more scorn. Jesus had healed a blind man on the way to Jericho, proving He was the Messiah, and the crowd loved it (Luke 18:43). But when Jesus carries out His messianic mission, saving vile, guilty sinners, like the chief tax collector, the praise of the crowd turns to protest.

Still, Zacchaeus did what it took to see Jesus. He was looking for the one thing that touches the heart of a righteous God toward an undeserving sinner, which is mercy. Zacchaeus had sought the Lord, but the Lord had also sought him. The Scriptures clearly teach that no one who truly comes to Jesus for mercy, on the basis of faith, will be turned away. They also teach that anyone who comes to Christ for salvation does not come on their own initiative, but is drawn by God. Zacchaeus didn’t offer restitution in order to be saved; he offered it because he was being saved. The heart that is moved by God will also move its hands. A saving faith leads to a living faith.

Children can identify with Zacchaeus because they know what it’s like to be too little to see what’s going on. But adults also know that feeling of being at the edge of the crowd, of being an outsider, of not being able to get a clear view. Yet too often what obscures our vision of Jesus is our tendency to blame external factors rather than internal affairs. Perhaps we have anger because of what God seems to be “doing for others”. Maybe we suffer from laziness, because God “doesn’t seem to be helping me”. Sometimes it is embarrassment, because God “makes me admit my problem before people”. Or pride, because God “couldn’t possibly think I’m worse than that other person”.  All these things cause us to be “short sighted” (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-9).

We should learn from Zacchaeus. His testimony stands tall. 


Monday, August 29, 2016

Seeing the point

Matthew 20:29-34 / Mark 10:46-52 / Luke 18:35-43…

Sometimes we can become so focused on minutiae that we miss the meaning of something. We miss the forest for the trees; we choke on the hors d’oeuvres, as it were, and miss the main course. Instead of being enriched by the added details we are bogged down in the incidental. And sometimes we might think that we are going deeper when we are actually becoming shallower.

Here is a case in point. In the gospel of Luke, we see Jesus healing a blind man. Mark gives his name (Mark 10:46). Yet Matthew mentions two blind men (Matthew 20:30). Mark and Matthew refer to the old Jericho, while Luke is speaking of the new Jericho, a mile or so south of the old town. Luke says He was approaching Jericho. Matthew and Mark say He was leaving Jericho. It is possible because you could be approaching the new Jericho leaving the old Jericho. We could get all worked up over some supposed contradiction between the stories instead of seeing them as complimentary. The biblical writers simply focused on different details.

The big picture is that this is actually the last of Jesus’ public miracles before reaching Jerusalem and the time of His crucifixion. The first miraculous sign Jesus performed was in the north at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11), and here, the last is in the south of Judea. He had filled Israel with signs and wonders, testifying to His divinity and role as Messiah. The blind beggars called out to the Messiah (son of David) and were healed. 

The crowd will try and crowd you out. But don’t let the religious crowd stop you from getting to Jesus. Using your intellect and being diligent to study are good and necessary things. However, the key to spiritual understanding is obedience and trust. Don’t be blind about how to understand spiritual truth. Get the big picture into your heart before you concern yourself with getting the details into your head.

Do you see the point?


Sunday, August 28, 2016

The precedent for preeminence

Matthew 20:20-28 / Mark 10:35-45…

The ambition: Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.
The inquiry: Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?

The answer: We are able.
The insight: You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.

The anger: And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.
The implementation: whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.

It is not simply a matter of suffering, and not simply a matter of service, it is a matter of self-denying self-sacrifice, not self-indulgent service for self-exalting status. Submission makes us a servant to others; thus submission is the surrendering of our independence. In submission we place the interests of others above our own personal interests (Romans 15:1-2 / Philippians 2:1-4), which enables us to humble our thirst for recognition.

God is the key and Christ is the model and the means for submission. The submission we are to have one to another is to imitate Christ’s submission (Philippians 2:5-13). Peter also makes God the focus of submitting to governmental authority (1 Peter 2:13-17), to workplace authority (1 Peter 2:18-20), and to those who cause them suffering (1 Peter 2:21-25, 4:19).

In the eyes of the world, the greatest is the one who has no one over him. In the kingdom of God, Jesus said that whomever would be the greatest would be the servant of all (Mark 9:33-37). Submission is the attitude which underlies servant leadership. When we subordinate our interests to those of the ones we lead, we die to self (Matthew 10:38-39 / Mark 8:34-35 / Luke 9:23-24 / John 12:24-25). In this way we become models of submission to the church (1 Peter 5:1-7). 


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Just keep following

Matthew 20:17-19 / Mark 10:32-34 / Luke 18:31-34…

Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. They were all in wonder and many were worried.

Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. In our walk with Jesus, everything that God has ordained for your life will be accomplished, too.

But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Even His closest disciples didn’t really understand what He was now saying, and what it all meant for the future.

But don’t forget one thing…the true disciples kept right on walking with Jesus. Where else were they to go (John 6:68)? Even though they didn’t fully as yet understand what He was saying, and wondering why He was going where He was. It sounded like trouble. But they still followed.

It is worth the trouble to follow Him into trouble. Every commandment of Christ is for our best, and it is done from a heart of love (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2-3). He may seem to be a dead end to you at times, but He will rise again, you’ll see. That is, if you keep following (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Those who follow Jesus follow all the way through death and home to heaven. 


Friday, August 26, 2016

Grace isn’t fair

Matthew 20:1-16…

The setting of this parable was the conversation Jesus just had with the rich man, and the following discussion with the disciples (Matthew 19:16-30). Just before giving this parable, Jesus issued a warning, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” At the end of this parable, Jesus says again, “So the last will be first, and the first last.”  Since this warning both precedes and follows the parable, it is evident that the parable was told to explain the warning.

The story starts out with a normal plot, with a landowner hiring day workers. But as the day came to the end, the landowner did something very unusual. He paid those who had worked the least amount of time the same as those who worked all day. Naturally, the workers who had been there all day complained. They thought it was unfair that the men who worked only a little should get just as much as they did.

But the landowner reminded them of the facts. They needed work, and he graciously gave them a job. He then paid them a fair wage, one they had agreed to. Other workers were simply blessed beyond that, and this was the prerogative of the landowner. There was no law that said he had to pay everyone proportionately. That ended the discussion.

Yet the story isn’t simply about money, wages, rewards, or recompense, but about attitude. The Lord is the landowner, and the vineyard represents His kingdom. We are the workers, and the wages are about God’s rewards for faithful service. But the length of service and the amount of work does not determine what the reward is. God’s economy of grace is not the same as the natural order people expect.

It is when people start comparing what God has given to other believers that they begin to judge God’s fairness. Two things happen when you compare with others: you covet or you complain. You covet what others do have and complain about what you don’t have. The warning to each of us is not to be proud of what we have done and expect more than those whom we think have done less. Anything and everything we are able to do for and in the kingdom of God is simply the result of His grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). We must serve Him faithfully, trusting His just and generous character (1 Corinthians 15:58).


Thursday, August 25, 2016

The reward of true riches

Matthew 19:27-30 / Mark 10:28-31 / Luke 18:28-30…

Peter attests to what Jesus said could be done by God. The disciples had been converted and have indeed left everything behind to follow Jesus, unlike the rich man. The truth is that eternal life is not inherited by good works. It is received by faith in those whom God’s grace works the impossible. Radical obedience is the result.

But not all people are called to give away all they have. Indeed, very few are. The problem is not the abundance of wealth or the absence of wealth. The problem is the love of wealth. Even among Christians, there will always be the poor (Mark 14:7), and there will always be the wealthy (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Nowhere do we find Jesus calling us to all live the same kind of life. Jesus calls some to radically sell all and give to the poor, but not all. He calls some to lifestyles of radical wealth in order to create more wealth so that His kingdom work can be financed.  What we are called to lose is whatever it is that might keep us lost.

You may have to leave behind some earthly things; but you will gain spiritual and eternal things. Jesus said that we would receive many rewards. The bountiful blessings of now include a new relationship with God and a new spiritual family of fellow disciples that will last beyond death. Jesus wasn’t promising material wealth, He was promoting spiritual wealth. And eternal life with God will be a glorious existence that cannot be compared to earthly blessing.

Certainly, we need to be practically realistic about what we’re calling people to. Coming to Christ and giving up the control of your life can be very painful. But whatever the cost of discipleship, the rewards of discipleship more than make up for it (Romans 8:16-18 / 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 / 1 Peter 1:3-9).


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It won’t work, unless

Matthew 19:23-26 / Mark 10:23-27 / Luke 18:24-27…

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus wasn’t saying that if someone was rich on earth they will not be in heaven. He was teaching us that entering the kingdom of God by relying on material wealth is impossible. Unfortunately, people with possessions have a natural tendency to want to earn their way in. But trying hard enough simply won’t work. There is no way to buy, merit, earn, or deserve God’s grace.  

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” They thought that surely, if anyone could be saved, it would be the rich. But riches are often a hindrance to dependence on God (Luke 6:24-25). On the other hand, a poor person is spiritually in a better position to receive the gospel (James 2:5). A poor person can’t look to wealth to shield him from the reality of his spiritual poverty. Poor people have their worries, just as wealthy people do. But poverty is a blessing in disguise when it makes it harder for a person to maintain the illusion of control, and easier to see his need for God.

With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God. Jesus’ answer says a lot.  Salvation is only possible by the means of a miracle. And that miracle must be performed by God. Indeed, God can work the miracle of conversion even in a rich person’s heart.  It can happen for you when you renounce your works as deserving of God’s favor.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Drop the dough and let’s go

Matthew 19:16-22 / Mark 10:17-22    / Luke 18:18-23…

What must I do to inherit eternal life? This man is clearly intent on achieving eternal life by his own efforts. Jesus answered the question by telling the rich man to keep the commandments. However, Jesus is not giving a plan of salvation. He is using the Law as it is intended (Galatians 3:24). The Law does not save (Romans 3:28), but it does condemn (Romans 3:19). Jesus was lovingly proving where this man’s heart really was.

There are things in each of our lives that would keep us from trusting Christ. They are different things for different people, but we must be willing to forsake them if we are to follow Jesus. Christ knew that this man could not follow Him and still keep his money (Luke 16:13). He won’t deny himself, he wanted to hold on to his own will, pride, money, ambition, control over his life. His unwillingness to give his money to the poor revealed that he had not even kept the first great commandment (Matthew 22:36-37).

Jesus did not give him a different requirement than what is asked of others. He declares to us all that we must forsake what keeps us from following Him (Mark 8:34-36). The rich ruler wanted to stay as the ruler when the gospel is that Jesus saves you from self-rule and becomes the ruler.  


Monday, August 22, 2016

Bless the noise

Matthew 19:13-15 / Mark 10:13-16    / Luke 18:15-17…

The disciples saw the children who wanted to touch Him as a distraction and wanted to stop them. But Jesus welcomed “distractions” to His kingdom, and that should make us pause. In effect, some of us act as if Jesus doesn't want to reveal Himself to children, or as if they cannot receive it. This is simply pride and unbelief on our part. The key to effective ministry to children is humility, and we must be on guard against hindering children from coming to Jesus.

This scenario also has bearing on the modern and all too often misguided desire for a “distraction free environment” in worship. The orderly worship of God is not always supposed to be a silent environment. The Bible does not advocate a disorderly and chaotic form of worship, but we shouldn’t think, for example, that Paul was arguing in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 for an entirely distraction free gathering, either.

We must be careful not to turn the worship service into an individualistic consumer event rather than an individual-in-community transforming event. It is about more than satisfying individual wants/needs, it is about transforming us into being more like Christ. Allowing the “distractions” of hurting people, extraordinary situations, special needs children, etc., is training for just that. We don’t need “a distraction free environment”; we need to learn to focus.

Otherwise, we can only “worship” when we can get quiet. And God isn’t happy with that.