A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Matthew 22:23-33 "More Games With God"

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.  “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him.  Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother.  The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh.  Finally, the woman died.  Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.  But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you,  ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” 
When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching. 

We sometimes think of the Saducees and the Pharisees as being pretty much the same -probably because neither party (they were more than just religious factions, they were political parties within the Jewish Theocratic system of government) especially liked Jesus and both parties were always asking trick questions trying to trap Jesus in saying something that the general population would find offensive.  But the Pharisees and the Saducees were quite different.

The Pharisees believed that if they could keep the Law of Moses perfectly, God would be impressed with their diligence and would then be convinced to relent and deliver them from the hands of the Roman Empire.  Accordingly, they were all about the Law.  This is why they were so legalistic -they believed that their deliverance from Rome depended upon everyone keeping the Law.  The Saducees, on the other hand, didn't believe this at all -they weren't even convinced of the reality of God, and certainly didn't think that God was going to deliver them from Rome.  They were Jewish by birth and practiced the Jewish religion for reasons of tradition and patriotism and heritage and the better good of society, etc.

In this story, the Saducees came to Jesus with a trick question.  The question isn't as important here as Jesus' response.  I believe that His response covers all our tricky Theological strawmen as we snipe at one another over theological issues that don't reflect God's heart.  Jesus didn't debate them.  There would be no point.  He simply said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God."

The inference in Jesus' response is that we need two things to even approach theological correctness.  First is a knowledge of Scripture -and the second is knowledge (experiential knowledge) of the power of God.  Experiential knowledge does not come from studying textbooks or even from listening to good teaching -or even from studying Scripture.  Experiential knowledge of the power of God comes only from an authentic, personal encounter with the living God.

People who are always arguing over theology are, at best, immature and and lacking wisdom -and at worst, lacking any real relationship with God at all.  We would be well to take Jesus' approach and not enter into their foolishness.  “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Matthew 22:15-22 "Playing Games With God"

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.  They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.  Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?  Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius,  and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. 

 The Pharisees were playing games.  They didn't realize it at the time -they thought they were playing games with men, but they were playing games with God.  They were so confident their theological paradigm was correct that it never crossed their minds that they might be wrong -about anything.  So they came up with tricky questions and false arguments and straw men of every sort to prove to themselves and others how clever and how correct they were.

Of course, there is a big problem with this approach to the spiritual life -the problem is that even though they couldn't see it, they were wrong -completely wrong.  This seems obvious to us since we have Scripture and history to show us the reality.  It was not as obvious to them.  From their perspective, they were serving God by exposing false teachings and a false prophet.

The sad thing is that we do the same thing today.  We will fight to the death to defend theological paradigms that have nothing to do with the heart of God.  Charismatics battle Evangelicals that battle Presbyterians that battle Baptists that battle Methodists that Battle Congregationalists that battle Armenians that battle Reformers -and all do this in the name of God, quoting Scripture, defending Truth against bad doctrine and heresy.  Meanwhile, as we play games with God, the world watches and wonders.

I wonder what might happen if we actually believed what Jesus taught?  "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself."

When we stand before God, I'm certain that He is not going to question us on our denominational distinctives or theological correctness; instead, He will look at our hearts.  Did we love God?  Did we love others?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Matthew 22:1-14 "Proper Attire Required"

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

 It's not difficult to see the in the basic story here the picture of Jesus.  The Father first invited the Jews to celebrate His Son, their Messiah.  They rejected their Messiah, and consequently, we (the Gentiles) were invited to the feast.

God's grace and compassion and mercy are overwhelming.  We who did nothing to warrant an invitation have been invited.  We receive all the benefits and love of the Father -all the attention that He would pour out on His people.  We have, in a very real sense, become God's chosen people.  We have been grafted into His family tree.  He withholds nothing.

But there is something here that we often forget.  Although God's compassion and mercy is overwhelming and His grace sufficient to meet every need, it is not given without expectation.  God has expectations.  He has requirements.  This is a reality often overlooked in Evangelical circles.  All have been invited and anyone may come, but we don't set the terms of the invitation.  We come to God on His terms or we we can't come.

We come to the Father in brokenness and humility, accepting Jesus as His one and only provision for our rebellion and sin.  We clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ.  We turn our hearts from the agendas and desires of the flesh (this world's best thinking) and allow Him to transform us into the likeness and character of Christ.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  We must fully enter in, or we may not enter at all.  The invitation has been given.  But we must respond appropriately.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Matthew 21:42-47 "The Cornerstone"

Jesus asked them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:   
   ‘The stone that the builders rejected
      has become the cornerstone.
   The Lord is responsible for this,
      and it is amazing for us to see’?

 That is why I can guarantee that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce what God wants. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken. If the stone falls on anyone, it will crush that person.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his illustrations, they knew that he was talking about them. They wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.

First, the obvious: Jesus is speaking of Himself.  He was rejected by His own people -particularly by the religious leaders and the religious elite -and yet became (according to the Father's plan) the very cornerstone of His Kingdom and the only means by which we can have an intimate, right relationship with Father.

The part of this passage that stands out to me as I read it today, though, is where He says,  "Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken. If the stone falls on anyone, it will crush that person.”  It seems to me that we all fall into one of these two categories -those who here and now are broken by the reality and truth and love of our Savior, and those who deny Him, turn from Him, reject Him, yet one day will bow before Him and be emotionally, spiritually and even physically crushed by the Truth they rejected.  In both cases there is a sense in which we are broken.  In one scenario, however, we are broken and restored and filled with purpose, joy and hope.  In the other, we are broken and hopeless.

Lord Jesus, Thank You for allowing me to be sweetly broken, and wholly accepted.  I gratefully and willingly bow before You here and now and acknowledge that I am Yours -I belong to You.  You are my Master, my King and my Friend.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Matthew 21:33-41 "For Whom Do We Labor?"

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.  When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.  Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.  Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’  So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” 

 Let's make sure we put this into the context in which Jesus taught it.  This is during the last week of Jesus' life, just before He was arrested and crucified.  Jesus was at the temple teaching when the religious leaders challenged His right and authority to teach.  Jesus did not answer them, but He taught these parables instead.  It seems obvious that Jesus is talking about the religious institution.  And whatever was true for the religious institutions back then is still true for us today.  These parables give us a glimpse of how the Kingdom functions and how God thinks.

The landowner, of course, represents God.  The vineyard is the ministry of the church (or in Jesus' day, the temple).  God set the church up to be functional -to bear fruit.  The job of the the tenants (church people, Christians, Preachers and Teachers), is to care for the vineyard in such a way that it produces fruit that benefits the true owner -God.  The caretakers (we who are Christians) are not the owners.  We were not given the authority to build our own kingdoms, have our own agendas, or produce fruit just for our own benefit.

When any given local church, or even any given denomination operates the vineyard for personal profit, reputation, prestige, power or influence, it is no longer functioning as the Kingdom.  Even when a church teaches a lot of good things and does a lot of good things, if it has it's own agenda it is not functioning as the Kingdom.  When we do that we are not loving God, rather using God to love ourselves. 

Does God care about this?  After all, isn't the Gospel still being taught?  Maybe.  But, clearly motives and agendas matter to God.  We have a King.  We have a Kingdom.  When we substitute our own agendas for His Kingdom agenda -when begin building our own kingdoms, we are robbing God.  And even though He is patient and gives us plenty of time to learn to love Him and serve Him and repent from our foolishness, if we don't repent their will one day be a consequence.  The owner will visit the vineyard and "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end."

Lord Jesus, as I serve you in the section of the vineyard You have entrusted to my care, help me to mindful of Your desires, Your plans, and Your fruit.  Lord, find me faithful.  I long to hear those beautiful words, "Well done My good and faithful servant."