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‘Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees”‘ (Matthew 16:6 ESV)

January 24, 2016

“Leaven” is the yeast that is added to bread dough to make it rise. It only takes a little to affect the whole. Although the disciples at first took the Lord literally and thought he spoke of bread, they finally realized he was warning against the teaching of the “Pharisees and Sadducees.” The teaching of the Pharisees was to be avoided because, although they believed the whole Hebrew Bible, they added to the law layer upon layer of tradition, until no one could keep it. Their “leaven” would lead to legalism. The Sadducees, on the other hand, denied much of the Hebrew Bible, affirming only the books of Moses. They were more interested in political power than in God’s power. Their “leaven” would lead to liberalism. Jesus warned his disciples to avoid both extremes.

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19 ESV)

January 23, 2016

Jesus contrasted the concern that the Pharisees had for clean hands with the real concern that they should have had for clean hearts. Water can wash dirty hands, but what will make dirty hearts clean? What will wash away the sin that is rooted in the human heart? Only the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7, Rev. 1:5).

“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus” (Matthew 14:1 ESV)

January 21, 2016

This was Herod the “Tetrarch” (“ruler of a quarter”), not Herod the Great. He was one of the sons of Herod the Great, and was better known as “Antipas.” After the death of Herod the Great, his sons went before Tiberius Caesar to plea their case for their father’s throne, for their kingdom was ultimately under Roman rule. Tiberius subdivided Herod’s kingdom into a tetrarchy and gave Antipas rule over Galilee and Perea. Herod Antipas later divorced his wife and took his brother’s (Herod Philip II) wife, Herodias, as his wife. She was not only his brother’s wife, but also his niece (“Herodias” was Herod the Great’s granddaughter). John the Baptist publicly rebuked Antipas for this sinful union. Antipas, perhaps fearing anarchy in his kingdom from John’s preaching, and at the urging of his wife and her daughter, imprisoned and later beheaded John. It was this Herod, Herod Antipas, that now feared that Jesus was in fact John the Baptist raised from the dead. The contrast between this puppet king of the Jews and the true king, Jesus, Son of David, Son of God is striking. Yet, the choice still remains today for us. Which king will you choose? The world’s puppet king or the One True King, Jesus?

“Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11 ESV)

January 17, 2016

The Pharisees (A strict Jewish sect) questioned Jesus, whether he would heal on the Sabbath. Jesus answered them, first with a question, and then with an action. The question revealed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees application of the 4th commandment (Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy), implying that they treat their animals better than they do their people. The Pharisees were strict law-keepers, not only of the written books of Moses, but also of the oral law (The Talmud and the Mishnah) which the rabbis had written as a commentary on how the commandments of the Torah were to be carried out. Jesus’ question revealed not only the hypocrisy, but the inaccuracy of their oral traditions. Then his action, to actually heal the man with the withered hand, answered not only their question concerning the Sabbath, but also revealed his identity as the Lord of the Sabbath. Yet, this only led to their further determination to kill him.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting Israel. They still have many Sabbath laws. They even run their elevators differently on the Sabbath, making them stop on every floor, so that no one has to lift a finger to work by pressing a button. How sad to focus so hard on law-keeping, yet miss the Lord to which the law was written to reveal.

“When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23 ESV)

January 14, 2016

The spreading of the gospel is the high calling for all Christians. If we are persecuted in one town, so that the gospel opportunity is limited or closed, then go to the next town. The corollary would be that if a place is welcoming to the gospel, then stay there. How do we know the timing of when to go and when to stay? The answer is that we are to be led by the Spirit. Sometimes He calls us to stay and suffer, so that hard soil is broken up and a resistant place is softened by our suffering for Christ. Yet, other times He calls us to escape persecution, so that He can have us carry the gospel to a place already prepared to hear it. That the “Son of Man comes” before all the towns of Israel have been visited has a much debated meaning. Some say Christ was referring to His plan to rejoin them after sending out His disciples. Others believe He was speaking of His resurrection, when His true nature would be revealed. Still others believe He was speaking of the fact that many Jewish towns would be resistant to the gospel until the end times before Christ’s second coming. For myself, I believe it was the latter meaning. And that we are to be busy spreading the gospel to every town on planet earth until His soon return.

‘And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast’ (Matthew 9:15 ESV)

January 12, 2016

Jesus answered the question of the disciples of John the Baptist with His own question. Indirectly, His question revealed two things about Himself: 1) Jesus is the Bridegroom, and 2) He would be taken away. These two facts were more important than their question concerning why Christ’s disciples didn’t fast. Of course, He answered that too, by saying they will fast after the “bridegroom is taken away from them.” John’s disciples came to Jesus wanting to know why His disciples didn’t fast. Why didn’t they deny themselves to focus their souls on hearing from God? And Jesus essentially told them that they didn’t have to fast because God is with them already, the Bridegroom, the Messiah had come. He also let them know that He would be forcibly taken away, predicting His coming crucifixion.

‘And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”’ (Matthew 8:22 ESV)

January 11, 2016

This was the response that Jesus gave to the man who expressed interest in following Jesus, yet asked for a delay in reporting to duty in order to bury his father. It seems a harsh response, but it clarifies the priority of which the call of Christ demands. Jesus asks those that would follow Him to leave all behind and to put Him first. But before jumping to judge Christ’s reply too harshly, consider the possible meanings:
1) Christ is not banning His followers from attending funerals. He is taking away excuses from those that would delay following. (How many have told a teacher that they missed school on a test day because their great aunt died?).
2) Christ is making a connection between being spiritually dead and physically dead when He says let the dead (spiritually) bury the dead (physically). In contrast, Christ’s disciples are to be involved in the ministry of bringing the spiritually dead to life.
3) When the disciple asked for a delay in following, so that he could bury his father, it didn’t necessarily mean that his father had died. He may have meant that he wanted to stay home until his aged father died, before following Jesus. He didn’t feel that he could answer Christ’s missional call until his father was dead.
4) It also may have been a reference to the possibility that his father had already died, but the son now felt constrained to enter into the year-long Jewish burial practice of that day. According to this practice, the body would be laid out on one side of a burial crypt until it decayed, then the bones would be placed in an ossuary box and put with the other boxes on the other side of the crypt nearly a year later.
Regardless of the setting, Jesus knew the man’s heart and gave the very response to the man’s request that was needed to expose it. He was asking him the same question He later asked Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15).

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34 ESV)

January 8, 2016

Worry is a wasted activity. It is also a sin. For it begins with a lack of faith that doubts God’s protection and provision. Worry is like a puppy that won’t return its master’s slipper, gnawing and growling, it won’t let go of a shoe that it neither owns nor needs. Can you change your tomorrow with worry? Can you add one hour to your life by being anxious (Matt. 6:27)? Worry is anxious self-talk. Why not use the same effort to turn this inward dialogue upward? Turn your worries into prayers. Give the “shoe” back to the Master owns tomorrow.

“But I say to you…” (Matthew 5:28 ESV)

January 6, 2016

A repetitive phrase that Jesus used in His Sermon on the Mount to contrast the letter of the law with the spirit of the law. “You have heard it said…” that thou shall not kill… thou shall not commit adultery… thou shall not divorce… “but I say…” Jesus listed many of the ten commandments and levitical laws and challenged His hearers to understand that even the attitude that precedes the action is sin. As Jesus illustrated, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Those who thought that they had kept the law and were therefore righteous, now understood that they weren’t. Jesus taught that the action of sin begins with the attitude of sin. Encountering Jesus we are convicted of our self-righteousness, the sinful attitudes of our hearts are exposed, and our need for salvation is revealed. Many will turn away, determined to cling to their own self-efforts at being “good.” But some will admit the condition of their hearts deadened by sin and receive Jesus, and their hearts will come alive in Christ!

“So his fame spread throughout all Syria…” (Matthew 4:24 ESV)

January 4, 2016

After Jesus overcame Satan and returned from His wilderness fast, He began His public ministry. News of Him soon reached other lands, including Syria. In the book of Acts we read that Christians were in Damascus in such number that the persecutor, Saul, headed there to bring them to trial. Of course, His mission was changed when the Lord struck him blind along the way. Instead of persecuting them, he ended up preaching the gospel there. A large Christian fellowship of believers has lived in Syria since the 1st century. Yet, today they are experiencing terrible persecution once again. Pray for the Christians in Syria. Before the civil war, they made up over 10% of the population. Untold numbers have been persecuted and killed. Pray that the Lord once again directs help to a street called “Straight” (Acts 9:11).