Category: Gospels

“Jesus, Please Leave!”

Scripture reading for October 16th: Mark 4-7

We who love Jesus can’t envision asking Him to depart from us or leave our town.  We would invite Him to stay with us as long as possible to enjoy His companionship.  Jesus wants to come and be with us as well.  He came to earth to seek out and save lost people.  (Luke 19:10)  In our reading today, Jesus was on a mission that required crossing the Sea of Galilee with His disciples to find a very lost person.

After ministering to a crowd all day, Jesus told His disciples that they should go to the other side of the lake.  They got in boats and Jesus got in the stern, found a cushion and went to sleep.  It had been a hard day and He was tired!  As they crossed the lake in the night, a furious wind arose that threatened to swamp the boat.  The disciples excitedly woke Jesus, pleading for help.  Jesus rebuked the wind and waves and a calm suddenly fell upon them.  They were terrified and marveled about how the wind and waves obeyed Jesus!  He chastened them for their fear and lack of faith.  (Mark 4:35-41)

When they got across the lake, a man with an evil spirit came from among some tombs to meet Jesus.  He had chains on his hands and feet and looked like a madman because of where he lived and the shape he was in.  As He saw Jesus, he ran to Him and fell on his knees begging not to be tortured.  The man’s name was “Legion” because of the large number of demons in him.  Jesus rebuked the evil spirits and sent them into a herd of pigs as they requested.  The swine ran over a steep bank, tumbled into the lake and drowned.  Nearly two thousand pigs died!

The man was delivered, set free from the bondage, and in his right mind!  (Mark 4:14-17)   The people of the region, who depended on the pigs for their sustenance, were terrified and angry.  They came to Jesus and asked Him to leave their region.  Mark records that Jesus got into the boat to leave, and the delivered man asked to come along.  Jesus sent him back to tell his family of what the Lord had done for him and then departed.  This man became an evangelist, telling others throughout the area of what Jesus had done for him.

As we reflect on this story, we are first reminded of how Jesus loves and cares for His own disciples.  He’s always with us, even when we think He might be sleeping or unaware!  He has given us authority by and through faith in Him to do what He has asked of us.  Nothing is too hard, dangerous, or difficult!  Second, Jesus loves to go out of His way to find someone who needs help.  He came to seek and save the lost!  He will go through water, storm, and forces of hell to reach a needy soul.  Last, those who are only into themselves are threatened by Jesus’ presence.  They asked Him to leave!  May the Lord give us more insight into His marvelous grace!

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Who Can Forgive Sins?

Scripture reading for October 15th:  Mark 1-3

Mark’s Gospel is concise and active.  It is alive with the Good News of God here with us and in love with us.  This revelation is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man!  Mark wastes little time with preliminaries of the Jewish history of the Christ and prophesies of His birth.  He gets right down to the action of Jesus living among His people and loving and serving them by teaching, healing, and casting out devils.  He ate with the people and told them stories that opened up for them the kingdom of heaven and their own need for a relationship with the Father.  One story of a healing is the subject of our study today.

As a result of a spectacular healing of a man with leprosy, people were coming from everywhere to find the man who could bring these miraculous results.  Crowds gathered wherever Jesus went.  He returned to Capernaum where he had done miracles and a crowd quickly gathered.  There were so many that people were crowded around the house to hear Him preach the word.  A group of men brought a friend who was paralyzed to Jesus for healing.  Because of the crowd, there was no way to get him inside, so they carried him up on the roof.  They opened a hole big enough to let the man down and lowered him into the room.

When Jesus saw the faith of the friends, He immediately responded to the man by saying: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)  This caused some religious leaders who were present to begin to think about how wrong this statement was to come from a mere man.  After all, only God could forgive sins!  (Mark 2:7)

Jesus had immediate understanding of their thoughts and sought to help them believe.  He asked them why they were thinking these things and asked them which was easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” or  “Get up, take up your bed and walk”?  In order to remove their objection, he told the man to get up, take up his bed, and walk.  This the man did to the amazement of the crowd!

This story should help us to see how faith should motivate us to seek Jesus for answers to whatever problems we face.  Jesus honors faith and no problem is too hard for Him.  We may not have faith ourselves, but believing friends can also be a great blessing by taking us to Jesus.  The obstacles must be pushed or broken through so we are not discouraged or denied!  What friend do you know that needs help today to get to Jesus?  Take a few minutes of your day to pray for him.  As the Lord leads, get another friend or two and go and lift him to Jesus together!  What a joy to delight Jesus with your faith!  What a blessing faith-filled friends are!  Miracles are waiting for those who break through!  He truly is God!

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Let His Blood Be On Us!

Scripture reading for October 14th: Matthew 26-28

Those who have grown up in the church have heard the story of Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and crucifixion many times.    This story is a key to our redemption from the ravages of sin because it tells of a Savior who willingly took our sin and loved us so much that He gave His life for us.  No one really took His life from Him; He offered it on our behalf as a part of God’s plan to bring us back to Himself.  Today, as we look at this story, I want us to focus on Jesus and His sacrifice for us.

Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot for a mere thirty pieces of silver.  (Matthew 26:14-15) Why Judas sold his Master, we are not actually told, except that he belonged to the evil one and was not one of the true disciples.  He fulfilled Scripture in Zechariah 11:12-13 that was written about him several hundred years in advance. The Jews sent temple guards to follow Judas to the place where Jesus was praying with His disciples.  Judas betrayed his master with a kiss.  Jesus told Judas and his followers to do what they came for and offered no resistance.

He was taken to Caiaphas, the High Priest, and the Sanhedrin, who met early in the morning, to try to find a way to put Jesus to death.  (Matthew 27:1)  Caiaphas asked Jesus directly if He was the Christ, Son of the living God.  Jesus answered “yes”  and told him that in the future he would see Jesus seated at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.  (Matthew 26:63-64)  The council pronounced a death sentence, spit on Him, and struck Him with their fists.  His trusted disciples deserted Him and Peter denied Him three times as Jesus had predicted.

Jesus then stood before Pilate, the Roman governor, the only one with authority to put Him to death.  Pilate listened to the Jews’ charges and then asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews.  Jesus again answered “yes”.  Jesus made no other defense against the charges, to Pilate’s amazement!  Pilate had been warned by his wife not to have anything to do with Jesus because of a troubling dream that she had.  He tried to get the crowd to release Jesus, but they insisted on having a criminal released and demanded Jesus be crucified.

Pilate symbolically washed his hands of the innocent Jesus’ blood and placed the responsibility on the people.  They willingly stated: “Let His blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25)  Ironically, it is the blood of Jesus alone that can cleanse us all from our sin.  We all have done that which caused God to take this drastic measure to save us.  It is a wonderful act of grace for Jesus to give His blood for the redemption of those who would crucify Him.  We who are saved have willingly confessed our sins and asked that “Jesus blood cover us”.  May it cover our children too!

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Beware! Be Ready!

Scripture reading for October 13th: Matthew 24-25

These chapters of Matthew contain the last major teaching of Jesus to his disciples as recorded by this Gospel writer.  Jesus remarked to His disciples about how not one stone would be left upon another at the temple. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” (Matthew 24:2-5)

It appears that deception will be a mark of the last days before the return of Jesus Christ.  The world we live in today is full of counterfeit religions and numerous cults that claim that they are the only way to God.  Even in the church, there are numerous false teachers who are deceptive and seductive.  In addition, there are other signs of the end of the age mentioned by Jesus.  He pointed to wars and rumors of wars among the nations.  There will also be famines and earthquakes in numerous places and the world will be in great distress.  Persecution of Christians will result in the death of the saints and betrayal and hatred toward God’s people will be common.  Many will turn away from following Jesus and their love for God will grow cold.  (Matthew 24:6-13)

As far as when this will take place, Jesus had a different warning.  There will surely be much deception and false teachers will abound, but Jesus emphatically taught that no one will know the day or hour of His return.  (Matthew 24:36)  It will be like the days of Noah when the flood came suddenly and swept the world of that time away.  It will be like a thief coming to a house suddenly at night.  It will be like a master coming back to find his servant neglecting his duties and doing evil.  The point of these illustrations is that each person must be in a state of readiness at all times.  Jesus is coming back at a time when we least expect it.

To illustrate this point, Jesus then told two parables.  The first, which we will discuss, was about the ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom.  The virgins consisted of five who were foolish and five others who were wise.  The foolish ones took their lamps, but did not take any oil for them.  The wise took oil along for their lamps and were ready.  The bridegroom was delayed and they all fell asleep.  The midnight cry woke them up to prepare for his arrival.  Only the wise were prepared and got to go with the bridegroom to the wedding feast.  The foolish were late and missed the party!

Our Lord just emphasized the need to be read and prepared for the immanent coming of our Bridegroom, Jesus  Christ.  He could come at any time.  Are you prepared?  Is your lamp burning bright and have you purchased plenty of oil?  May the truth of this message cause faith to arise to get ready!

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Parable of the Wedding Banquet!

Scripture reading for October 12th: Matthew 20-23

“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.” Matthew 22:2-3

Why did Jesus give this parable and who did he give it to?  We read in the previous chapter that the chief priests and Pharisees knew that the parables that they heard were about them and they were afraid of the people.  They were jealous because many people were following Jesus and thought He was a prophet.  (Matthew 21:45-46)  They were looking for a way to arrest Jesus but he just gave them another parable.  We have no commentary on this parable here in Matthew but the story is easy to understand in the context.

The king was God the Father who sent His only son to earth.  His plan was to gather a bride for His son from those who would believe and follow Him.  He came to the Jews first and they were invited to the great wedding banquet.  Israel was long considered the betrothed wife of God!  When the banquet was ready, servants were sent to remind the guests of the banquet and their need to respond and come.  These servants were the prophets, up to and  including John the Baptist.  The people of Israel gave lots of excuses and for the most part failed to respond.  Worse than that, they beat the servants of the King and killed them. (Matthew 22:5-7)  The king sent his army and destroyed those murderers and their city.  This likely refers to the Babylonian captivity.

The King then instructs His servants to go into the highways and on the street corners and find those who will come to His Son’s wedding banquet.  Many respond, good and bad, to the urgent invitation.  This speaks of the church sent out to the world to preach the Gospel to all people.  Many respond, good and bad.  One attended the banquet not properly clothed.  This person was confronted and then escorted out.  This man was speechless because he knew the proper clothing but in rebellion chose not to wear it.  He was bound and cast out into outer darkness where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 22:13)

“Many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)  Jesus concluded this parable with these sobering words.  The invitation to His wedding banquet has gone out to all the world.  Many have responded and others have chosen to not respond for various excuses.  These excuses will keep them out of the joys of the King’s presence.  Others choose to come on their own terms and will be forcibly cast out at the last judgment.  Only the robes given by the King’s Son will be proper attire.  Have you accepted the King’s invitation?  Are you wearing the proper garment?

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Sunday Rest and Reflection: Children!

Dear Friends,

Greetings on a beautiful day of resurrection rest!  Fall is here and seasons are changing with leaves turning color and crops being harvested.  Apples are for sale at the orchard and pumpkins are everywhere!  We have had a bountiful year here for those growing crops and are again blessed as a nation to have an abundant food supply.

As I reflect back over this last week, there is so much that I could write on from Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus was truly the “Christ, son of the living God”!  He demonstrated that again and again to his followers so they could believe and share their faith with others and ultimately reach the world.  However, growing to be a mature disciple and follower of the Lord takes time and sometimes correction. I want to comment on a short passage found in Matthew 19:13-15.

“Then, children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hand on them and pray for them.  But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  “When He had placed His hands on them, He went on from there.””

Children are so important in our lives and in the kingdom of heaven.  When children are younger, they are more open and teachable and need to meet Jesus.  It is the parents’ duty to bring their children to Jesus, to pray for them regularly, and lay hands on them.  We must not do anything to hinder them.  It seems that the disciples thought that Jesus did not want to be bothered by parents and small children.  They rebuked them and tried to send them away.  They dismissed these small children as insignificant and felt that one so special as Jesus would want to be left alone.

We need to be sure that we do not make the same kind of mistake!  Many in the church seem to view children as a distraction.  They don’t want to help with children and work to train them.  Children and nursery workers are very hard to recruit and volunteers are hard to come by. Older people seem to feel that they have done their duty or put in their time.  Younger parents say that they need a break.  Many say that children aren’t their calling and they have no patience with them.  We seem to suffer from the same mentality as these early disciples and stand to be rebuked by our master as well!

Jesus set a wonderful example for us all!  He took time for children.  He touched children and prayed for them.  He took them into His arms and blessed them.  He did not make excuses of having no calling, or being too busy, or having more important things to do.  Children are a heritage from the Lord, a reward from Him! (Psalm 127:3-5) They will carry on Christ’s work, should Jesus tarry.  Let’s be sure we are not hindering them and that we are praying for them, teaching and blessing them.

In His Love, Pastor John

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Who Do You Say That I Am?

Scripture reading for October 10th: Matthew 16-19

The Pharisees and Sadducees are two groups of religious people that were often in conflict with Jesus.  They often came to Jesus to test Him and to try to make themselves look good by discrediting Him. (Matthew 16:1-4) One day, they came asking Jesus for a sign from heaven to confirm that He was Messiah.  Jesus had just fed the 5000 with the loaves and fishes and had been doing many other miracles.  (Matthew 14:16-21)  He had offended the Pharisees earlier by warning the people about the hypocrisy of those religious leaders.  He called them blind guides that if someone would follow them, they would both fall into a pit! (Matthew 15:12-14)  Now they were testing Him again!

Jesus’ response was to rebuke them and leave them quickly.  He told them that a wicked and adulterous generation would seek a sign.  They would only be given the sign of Jonah, the prophet.  He then warned his followers to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees.  They didn’t understand.  Jesus explained that the yeast was their teaching that would lead them and others away from the truth He was sharing.

They then traveled to Caesarea Philippi, an area at the mouth of the Jordan River at the foot of Mount Herman.  There Jesus asked His disciples two key questions.  Jesus asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  (Matthew 16:13)  They told him various answers that were common among the people of that day. Jesus then asked them the most important question, “Who do you say that I am?”  (Matthew 16:15)  Simon Peter immediately answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  (Matthew 16:16)  Jesus commended him for his answer.  He had come to the right conclusion, but not by man’s opinion or his own reasoning and mental ability.  The Father had revealed this truth to him!

How have you answered Jesus’ question?  What conclusion have you come to regarding the identity of Jesus Christ?  Is He someone who must show you one more “sign” before you will believe?  Are you skeptical that He is the Son of God?  Do you just feel that He is a prophet sent from God or someone famous who has come back from the dead?  Do people’s opinions shape your thoughts on Jesus Christ?   All of these responses were present when Jesus walked the earth and was doing miraculous signs.  Human reasoning and visual proof are well and good, but truth comes by revelation from God the Father.  Revelation comes when we are humble and teachable enough to believe.  Faith is the key ingredient, and that is a gift from God!  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Jesus concluded his remarks to Peter and the disciples after this discussion with a promise to build His church on ‘this rock’ and told them that the gates of hell would not prevail against that church.  The “rock” was Peter’s confession of who Christ was, not Peter himself.  Jesus is still building His church on that rock!  It is a secure foundation for eternal life!

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The Farmer Sows the Seed!

Scripture reading for October 9th: Matthew 12-15

Jesus used parables to speak to multitudes of people.  The knowledge of the kingdom of heaven is hidden from those with hard hearts and closed ears.  Their attitudes blind them to truth that God wants to reveal to them.  (Proverbs 14:6)  (Matthew 13:11-15)  Parables are stories that speak of something common that all would know about and be able to understand naturally, but with additional meaning that applies to the kingdom of heaven and our own relationship to it.  Jesus ended many of these stories with something like: ‘if you have ears, listen!”.  (Matthew 13:8)  Almost everyone has ears, but the listening that Jesus encouraged was spiritual and revealed truth.

As a former Iowa farmer, the parable of the sower always fascinated me.  I raised corn one year for a Master Corn Grower’s contest.  I took the pounds of seed planted and then after harvest the pounds of seed harvested off of this contest plot of nearly 200 bushels per acre.  The return was over 1100 to 1!  This parable talks about a thirty, sixty, or hundred fold return!  Now that was good seed and good ground and God’s amazing grace!  By the way, I got third place in the contest!

In this parable, the farmer scattered his seed and it fell on different types of soil.  Some fell on the path and birds ate it up immediately.  Some fell on rocky soil, and sprouted quickly but died out.  Some fell among the weeds and was choked out.  Most of the seed went to the good ground and it yielded a crop of various multiplication.  This simple story that would have been very familiar to everyone in that culture held some spiritual understanding for those with ears to hear!

Jesus went on to explain the meaning to his followers.  (Matthew 13:19-23)  Those who heard the word but did not understand it were like the seed on the path.  The evil one comes along and eats it before it can produce or even sprout.  The rocky soil represents those who initially hear the word but have no depth of heart desire so the word dies out before a crop can come.  The seed among the weeds represents those who receive the word, but the cares of this life and deceitfulness of riches choke it out before it can produce.  Finally, those who hear the word and understand it and put it into practice are like the good soil, producing a crop that multiplies!  The parable is simple and easy to understand, if you are teachable!

God is the farmer and He has commissioned us to sow His word in the soils of hearts.  We can’t control what kind of soil the seed falls on but we have good seed!  The Gospel seed will grow when conditions are right.  Do an inventory of the condition of your heart today.  Is the crop of eternal life growing in you?  If so, are you deepening your heart’s soil so the roots go down?   Are you keeping the weeds out?  Is the crop bringing an increase?  Could it be greater?  God has blessed the seed and wants to multiply it through you!

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A Yoke of Rest!

Scripture reading for October 8th: Matthew 8-11

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

This portion of Matthew is one I have preached on often and love to return to on a regular basis.  It seems that I have a tendency to love to work and take on lots of projects, speaking engagements, and commitments.  It is like there is a subtle underlying need to find my worth in what I do or how much I can do.  This is hard to admit and even harder to detect the true motives sometimes.  I need to come to Jesus and remember that He is able to handle the loads of life’s problems and I must walk with Him under His authority in all I do.   My work earns me nothing because salvation is all grace.

In the time of Jesus, a rabbi was a master teacher who usually gathered disciples who would train to be like their teacher.  In fact, when a student was fully trained, he would be like his teacher and could also become a rabbi and have disciples.  (Luke 6:40)  It was an honor to be invited to follow a rabbi and only the brightest and best were usually asked.  However, Jesus the “rabbi”, went among the common people and called out those who appeared to be the unqualified.  They were often considered the least qualified but Jesus looked at the heart and took those who were willing to leave all and follow!

The ‘yoke’ of the rabbi was his authority and his teachings.  A disciple would learn to follow the master so closely that it is said that the dust of the rabbi was on their clothes as they walked closely behind him.  Jesus called all to come to him!   He asked them to come under His authority, which had been given Him by the Father.  (Matthew 11:27)  Everything was under His authority and he had demonstrated that earlier in our reading today by many miracles. Sickness departed at His word! (Matthew 8:2-3)  Demons in people left at His command!  (Matthew 8:28-34)  Sins were forgiven and a paralytic healed. (Matthew 9:1-8)  A dead girl was raised to life at His word! (Matthew 9:23-25) Blind men received their sight at His touch.  (Matthew 9:27-31) At His command, the disciples were sent out and miracles were done through their hands!  (Matthew 10:1-8)

Following Jesus requires a complete surrender to Him and becoming a learner of His teachings and character.  His ‘yoke’ of authority is easy and His ‘burden’ is light because He travels with you and me wherever we are.  He has all authority and has given authority to us to do His work!  Even greater works will we do because He has gone to the Father!  (John 14:12-13)  We can rest in Him today and follow closely!  We are promised to be like Him one day, enjoying a heavenly body and knowing Him fully!

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Blessed Kingdom Kids!

Scripture reading for October 7th: Matthew 5-7

Matthew is writing his Gospel primarily to the Jews who knew the Old Testament law and prophets.  That’s why he quotes so many passages of the Old Testament and tries to speak to them in ways that relate to their background and heritage.  Matthew records one of the longest discourses of Jesus in the Bible.  It is also one of the most famous and contains a rich wealth of teaching for those who are followers of the great Rabbi and teacher who is the Son of God.  It is hard to pick out just one area for our devotion today but I have chosen to focus on the blessedness of those who embrace the King and His kingdom!

The kingdom of heaven was the subject of this great teaching and this term is used several times.  A kingdom implies a king.  God was to be King over the nation of Israel and they were to be His loyal subjects.  Jesus begins with an opening to this message that we know as the “beatitudes”.  This section speaks of the blessedness of those who will be subjects of the King.  They are blessed when they are poor in spirit because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:3)  Kingdom people are not proud and boastful and self-sufficient.  Their sufficiency comes from their King in their midst.

Kingdom people are meek and merciful.  They are humbly under their merciful King’s authority and guided by His Spirit.  They hunger and thirst for righteousness and are satisfied by their King with a banquet of bread and wine.  Kingdom kids are pure in heart because they have a new heart given as a gift from their King!  They are peacemakers for they are sons of their Father who gives peace that the world can’t understand!  These kids are blessed when they are persecuted for their righteousness because they have heavenly vision and know that the best is yet to come!  They have a reward in heaven that no one can steal or destroy. (Matthew 5:7-12)  They will see their King’s face one day and bask in His glory!

Kingdom kids are blessed to be the light of the world.  They reflect the glory of their King everywhere they go.  They are the salt of the earth!  They bring out the “God-flavors” of this world according to the Message Bible!  (Matthew 5:13-16)  They help stop the corruption of sin and bring out God’s saving and preserving message of Gospel hope.  They are a people who live out the law by loving God and loving their neighbors from their hearts.  God’s law is written there and His Spirit empowers them to live righteously in a wicked world.

God’s kingdom kids do not have to worry about tomorrow or fret over provisions.  They know how to talk to God in prayer and trust Him for everything.  He is their provider and protector.  They are blessed with all they need as they seek their King and His righteousness!  (Matthew 6:33)  They have built their houses on a Rock, their King and God!  Storms may come, but they will be secure and safe in Him!  What a blessed life!  I’m so glad to be a “Kingdom Kid”!

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