Scripture reading for January 11th: Matthew 9:18-38
Farmers know the pressure when the crops are ripe and the weather is just right for harvesting. I speak from years of experience in raising grain on an Iowa farm. Farmers know that the window of opportunity is narrow and they must make haste before the storm comes and ruins the ripe grain. An urgency and focus comes upon them that even deprives them of their desire to eat until their task is finished and the precious grain is in the barn.
“Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. As the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38)
Jesus came to earth with a mission to seek and save lost sinners. He likened them to ripe grain, ready to harvest. He quickly went into the harvest field healing the sick and delivering those who were demon possessed. His compassion and power drew large crowds of hurting and hungry people. Jesus was moved by their needs like a shepherd would care for his own sheep. He spoke to His disciples about the harvest and the need for more workers. Prayer for workers must be made to the Lord of the harvest, His Father in order to solve this problem.
Prayer is conversation with God and listening to God for an answer. We ask and then we wait for instructions or the answer and these disciples must have asked for the laborers. It is interesting to note that in the next breath, Jesus was sending them out as the answer to that prayer! “He called the twelve disciples to Him and gave them authority to drive out spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” “Go to the lost sheep of Israel”. (Matthew 10:1, 6) This command to pray is needed yet today by the followers of Jesus. There is a ripe harvest and a time of opportunity that needs all the workers gathering it in with urgency! Will you obey?
Scripture reading for January 10th: Matthew 9:1-17, Psalm 7:10-17, Proverbs 2:16-19
Have you ever been audited by the IRS? Did your IRS agent invite you over to his or her house? Jesus came by Matthew’s tax collection booth and called him to follow. Matthew responded by leaving and following Him. He invited Jesus to come over to his house and Jesus came and ate and laughed with Matthew’s “sinner” friends, causing quite a stir among the religious community!
“When the Pharisees saw this, they asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13) Jesus loves all men, but He can only bring health to those who realize that they are sick. Those who have no knowledge or cannot admit that they need a doctor will not find healing. Those who cannot admit to sin cannot find repentance because they think that they don’t need it.
This is the danger of religion. Religion reduces our righteousness or spiritual health to some man-made rules that we try to keep. We are told that if we just do this or confess to that, all will be well with our soul. These Pharisees meticulously tried to keep God’s law and judged those who did not do all that they had commanded as hopeless sinners. They failed to realize that behind God’s law was a merciful Father who would show mercy to those who came humbly and asked. (1st John 1:9)
Our Father sent Jesus to walk and live among His people, demonstrating His love and desire that all would repent and be made righteous. Our righteousness is a gift of God by grace through faith in Jesus, not the result of our keeping His laws or man’s religious rules. (Ephesians 2:8-10) Jesus loves all sinners, even tax collectors like Matthew. Responding to Jesus by repentance and faith leads to following Jesus and eternal life! Praise the Lord for His mercy! That’s what He desires rather than sacrifice of keeping some rules. Thank God Jesus loves sinners such as I!
Scripture reading for January 9th: Matthew 8, Psalm 7:1-9, Proverbs 2:12-15
Jesus had just left a fruitful place of ministry in Capernaum in Peter’s house where he healed many sick and cast out numerous demons. The Holy Spirit led Jesus to cross the Sea of Galilee to a region known as Gadarenes. This was Gentile territory and the people there raised lots of pigs. But it wasn’t for the pigs that Jesus went!
On His way there with the disciples, they encountered a severe storm on the water that threatened to capsize their boat. Even the experienced fishermen among the group were frantic, and awoke Jesus from his sleep in the bow of the boat. Jesus stood up and rebuked the storm and a great calm settled over the sea. He also rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. (Matthew 8:24-27) They were amazed at His authority and wondered who He really was.
Upon arrival, the disciples and Jesus were greeted by two men who were demon possessed. These men came out of a cemetery and spoke directly to Jesus, addressing Him as the “Son of God”. It is interesting to note that the devil knew Jesus and recognized Him when the disciples were still wondering! These evil spirits also knew that Jesus had authority over them and begged Jesus to at least send them into a large herd of pigs grazing nearby. Jesus did not dialogue with these spirits, but simply said, “Go!” Their exodus caused the pigs to rush headlong over a steep bank into the sea and all were drowned.
Mark tells the story in a little different manner giving more details than Matthew. Mark tells of one man whose name was “Legion” for the many demons in him. Mark also numbers the pigs, saying that there were nearly 2000 in that herd! As Jesus was leaving, the man who was delivered begged to follow Jesus in his boat, but Jesus sent him back to share with his family and the region what God had done for him. (Mark 5:11-20)
The saddest part of this story is the people of that town’s reaction to this man’s deliverance. They came to Jesus and begged Him to leave their region! The loss of their pigs was more important than the freedom of one or two souls from the devil’s grasp! How would you respond if you were a character in this story?
Scripture reading for January 8th: Matthew 7, Psalm 6, Proverbs 2:9-11
Jesus liked stories that His listeners could identify with. He was good at picking out simple stories that illustrated his teaching. Jesus had been talking about what life in the kingdom of heaven was like and how people who were seeking that kingdom would conduct their lives. Kingdom life is all about living in obedience to God by faith. The world lives by the senses and the flesh and has its own way of doing business. The people of God’s kingdom follow the Lord and His holy word.
In Matthew 7, Jesus covers instructions for some common worldly ways of doing business. His people are not to judge others and condemn them, for with the measure they give, they will be judged. (Matthew 7:1-2) Judging others and finding fault with others is sinful because we cannot know the heart of another person and how they really stand with God. Only God has this ability and it is best left to the One who knows everything perfectly.
God’s people ask Him for their needs. This kind of asking is persistent in that it seeks an answer and knocks hard on God’s door. God promises that one who asks will receive and find an open door. God is good and willing to be entreated, but this doesn’t mean He is like a heavenly slot machine that dispenses miracles according to a formula. God is a loving Father who knows all things and sometimes answers in ways we did not expect or even says “no” or “not now”.
Jesus warned his followers to stick close to His teaching and to Him because the gate is narrow leading to life and few find it. Jesus is that gate! (John 10:7) The broad way is heavily populated and many are on their way to destruction. In fact, those who hear the word and obey it, putting it into practice are likened to a builder who built on a rock. The house will stand against any storm. Those who hear but don’t apply His teaching are like those who build on the sand. A storm comes and the house comes down with a great crash! (Matthew 7:24-27) Just hearing the teaching is not enough. The key is in applying the word to daily life. Our house are being built daily. Is yours on a rock or sand? A great storm is coming!
Scripture reading for January 7th: Matthew 6, Psalms 5:7-12, Proverbs 2:1-8
Jesus was anointed of God by the Holy Spirit to teach. In this sermon, He taught on prayer, fasting, and giving as well as living a life of contentment instead of worry. These are all tied together in that a life of prayer and generosity will lead to a life of true contentment! Seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness leads to all we need being added to our life by God! (Matthew 6:38)
Prayer is our conversation and interaction with God the Father who made us and also created the universe. Sin has cut off the relationship and our ability to talk and listen to God because of our own selfishness. We can even try to use prayer, fasting and giving in selfish ways. They can be all about us and drawing attention to our devotion to God instead of as an act of worship in response to God’s goodness or direction to us. Motives of the heart are important as we pray or give.
Jesus taught his disciples a model prayer that we call the “Lord’s Prayer”. Jesus never intended that we just say this prayer in mindless repetition, but taught a timeless pattern of prayer that would help with motives and having a right heart in communicating with God. The prayer starts with relationship–“Our Father in heaven”. His very name and title brings reverence and respect–“hallowed be Your Name”. We are children of our heavenly Father but must show respect as we would for our earthly father (or should).
The next petition concerns a desire for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven. This is not fatalism, but an aligning of our wills with God’s will and a recognition that we are open to do His will here on earth and enforce it in our circle of influence by faith. We are dependent on God, however, for our daily bread and ask for our needs from Him.
Forgiveness is asked for, but with recognition that we must forgive others. This thought is reinforced, because it is one of the biggest stumbling blocks of our flesh. We are constantly under temptation and need God’s help and deliverance from the source of temptation, the “evil one”.
These elements are the Lord’s instructions for powerful prayer! Let’s apply these principles daily as we move forward by Spirit-inspired prayer!
Scripture reading for January 6th: Matthew 5:31-48, Psalm 5:1-6, Proverbs 1:28-33
Early on New Year’s day, a Coptic Christian Church, “All Saints” church was holding a service in Alexandria, Egypt. The church had over 1000 in the midnight service and as the worshipers were leaving, a suicide bomber detonated his vest and instantly sent 21 of the worshipers to heaven (we trust but only God knows for sure). Ninety-six others were injured and the blast destroyed cars and damaged buildings as well as leaving stunned, angry Christians to deal with this atrocity. Some hurled rocks and stones at the police and others attacked the Islamic mosque across the street. Others waved blood spattered sheets, weeping for the victims.
How would Jesus instruct these followers of His to react in this heart-wrenching situation? Does Jesus have a word for His followers? “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-47)
These words are shocking to our senses in the light of the tragedy just described! What if the dead were our fellow church members or family? What if this had been going on for years and you had been loving and forgiving? Surely revenge would be appropriate! Jesus addressed that earlier–no revenge allowed! Overcome evil with good! (Matthew 5:38-42) (Romans 12:17-21) The way of Jesus is different than the way of the world. God loves these wicked ones as He loves us and desires that they would be forgiven and saved. Love is the most powerful force in the universe and God is love! He has given us His love through the Holy Spirit. Let’s ask Him to help us to love like He has instructed! Love never fails! (1st Corinthians 13:8)
Scripture reading for January 5th: Matthew 5:1-30, Psalm 4, Proverbs 1:22-27
Jesus Christ was at heart a teacher. His teaching was with authority that many religious people of that day lacked because He clearly understood the word of God. (Matthew 7:28-29) His longest recorded teaching is these passages we will read the next few day in Matthew 5-7 called the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus climbed a mountainside or hillside to gather His disciples and teach them. Large crowds gathered to hear Him teach and marveled at what He taught them.
The introduction to this teaching is called the “beatitudes”. These short statements all begin with “blessed” and are a description of the kind of life that belongs to those who choose the kingdom of heaven revealed by Jesus. These verses all contain blessings and promises to those who meet the requirements for the blessings. According to the Amplified Bible, the term “blessed” includes in the meaning happiness and a joy and blessing that is to be envied. To be blessed is to have God’s favor and smile of pleasure. The Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-27 comes to mind as God’s instruction to Aaron the High Priest for blessing the Israelites. God is the great King of the Kingdom and the King’s smile is a sign of His pleasure and acceptance.
Various attributes and attitudes are considered to be blessed. If you are poor in spirit, meek, or pure in heart God’s blessing is yours. If you are hungry and thirsty for righteousness or actively a peacemaker, God is smiling on you. If you are suffering persecution because of your righteousness, that also merits God’s blessing and favor. Great reward will come to each of these who exhibit these attributes and attitudes. These people will be the salt of the earth and light of the world! (Matthew 5:11-16) They must be careful to keep their salty status and let their lights shine to bring praise to God the Father in heaven!
True blessedness and joy comes from being what God created you to be. These attributes are formed in those who humbly follow Jesus and ask to be filled with His Spirit. Jesus perfectly exhibited these attributes and will form them in us as we submit to His word! Let your light shine and flavor the world with real saltiness! All glory goes to God!
Scripture reading for January 3rd: Matthew 3, Psalms 2:7-12, Proverbs 1:15-19
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12)
John the Baptist was the last prophet in the Old Testament who came in the spirit and mold of Elijah. (Malachi 4:5-6) Malachi had spoken of him in his last word over 400 years earlier. John came calling people to repentance and insisting that everyone needed to be baptized. Baptism was something that new converts to Judaism were called to do, but John insisted that all needed it. This angered the religious establishment but drew huge crowds of hungry people who were hoping to prepare themselves spiritually for the coming Messiah.
John told of the One coming after him! This One would bring a new baptism, the Holy Spirit and fire! As we seek to prepare ourselves for this new year, we would do well to seek Jesus for a fresh baptism or filling with the precious Holy Spirit! The fire was a symbol of the presence of God. Natural fire brought heat, light, and energy to those close to it; the fire of the Holy Spirit brings a holy energy to be a witness for the Lord. The fire of God’s amazing love will burn hot in those so baptized and they will share their love of Jesus and God’s love in them with those who have not heard!
It is interesting to note that Jesus is pictured by John with an instrument of harvest in his hands. His purpose is to gather His wheat into the barn. The wheat represents those who are believers in Christ and have the kernel of the Holy Spirit and God’s life in them. The barn represents God’s Kingdom and rule. Those who are “chaff”, have no life in them and are only fit for the unquenchable fire! The baptism of Jesus with the Holy Spirit and Fire is ours for the asking! (Luke 11:9-13) Don’t go another day without this precious gift!
Scripture reading for January 1st: Matthew 1, Psalms 1 Proverbs 1:1-7
Welcome to BibleTrekToday.com, a blog that comments on a personal journey through the Scriptures in 2011! I would like to invite you to read the Bible along with me and participate in the journey for yourself.
This year I want to focus on the New Testament and plan to write 2-3 days a week so that I can do more reading and spend time in worship and prayer. I will post the readings for each day from the New Testament and Psalms and Proverbs. This will allow a more leisurely reading of Scripture and should allow for a deeper understanding of what we are reading.
Our theme for 2011 at Good Shepherd Church is “By His Spirit”. Key scriptures for this theme are found in Zechariah 4:6-7 and Galatians 5:16-25. The Holy Spirit is the Father’s gift to the Church. The Spirit marks all who belong to Jesus Christ with a seal of ownership (Ephesians 1:18) and is actively involved in helping believers live a victorious life over our flesh and enemy the devil. The Spirit brings gifts to be used as He wills in bringing understanding, healing, and revelation to build up the church. (1st Corinthians 12:4) The Spirit produces fruit that is pleasing and Christ-like as we allow Him to dwell in us. (Galatians 5:22-23)
It is the Holy Spirit who initially baptizes us into the Body of Christ at our conversion. (1stCorinthians 12:13) We are all told to “be filled (and continually filled) with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). This is a continuing work of grace given to those who seek to be Christ’s witnesses. (Acts 1:8, 2:4) Those led by the Spirit of God are sons of God and without the Spirit, we do not belong to God! (Romans 8:9,14)
Many in Good Shepherd Church are filled with the Holy Spirit and learning to live by the Spirit. Others are seeking to learn more. Some are not at all acquainted with the Holy Spirit and all of us can grow in our relationship to the Holy Spirit. Being led by His Spirit is the only path to fulfilling our purpose and living by faith, which ultimately pleases God. Please join us in our passionate pursuit of living life “by His Spirit” as we read the New Testament. It is going to be an exciting year!
A special thanks to my wife and ministry partner, Mary, who has faithfully edited these blogs and offered corrections!