Category: Devotionals

Read Matthew 23

Key Verse: Matthew 23:39 “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

This chapter has been entitled “The Seven Woes” by many commentators, because seven times Jesus pronounces woe on the Pharisees. There’s no need to expand on the various criticisms that He has of the Pharisees, because the main point of the seven woes is in verse 3, “do not do what they do for they do not practice what they preach”. Jesus’ criticisms are about doing righteous things to be seen by man. He also addresses the misplacement of authority in calling various Pharisees “Rabbi”, “Father”, or “Teacher”. Does this mean we’re wrong to be calling anybody “Teacher” or “Professor” or “Master” or “Father”? No. In the context, Jesus is essentially flattening the spiritual pride He sees in the Pharisees and the titles they assume for themselves. He talks about their zeal to win converts and yet their blindness are guides. He talks about their ability to teach the Law and yet their inability to perform it. He also talks about the fact the He is going to send prophets, wise men, and teachers, to try and steer the Pharisees in the right direction, but predicts they will be killed and crucified just like others before them.

It’s in this context that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. He uses the powerful imagery of a barnyard hen clucking a warning as her little chicks rush to nestle under her wings for protection from some intruder. It’s a very pastoral, loving, and compassionate picture. When Jesus, however, was “clucking”, the chicks were not running. Because of their inattention, their temple was going to be left to them desolate. Then He says, “I am going to be gone too.” Which only adds to the desolation.

Israel won’t see Jesus again until they say, “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord”. Here we have a reference to the end of days and the developing doctrine in the New Testament of the second coming of Jesus Christ and His triumphant reign as Messiah.

Read Matthew 22

Key Verse: Matthew 22:21 “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Here we have one of the most famous stories about Jesus, when He comments on giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’. What is fascinating about the story is that the Pharisees and the Herodians got together in attempting to trap Jesus in His words. These two groups had very little to do with one another, and in fact represented totally different political points of view. The Pharisees tended toward ardent Nationalism, the Herodians toward cooperation with the growing force of occupation. So the Pharisees would be against paying tribute to Caesar, but the Herodians¬† would be for it. Yet here they were, working together. Both the religious and political establishment saw Jesus as a threat.

Jesus’ response to the question is anger, “you hypocrites, why are you trying to trap Me?”, and then tremendous cleverness, “show Me the coin used for paying the tax.” . (I think it is interesting Jesus didn’t have a denarius to His name.) The next question is simple, “whose portrait is this? whose inscription?” “Caesar’s”, they replied, then followed the famous answer.

Jesus refused to align Himself and His message with any kind of zealous nationalism. Though He claimed to be Israel’s leader, He denied any kind of kingship which was focused only on temporal and political power. The kingdom that Jesus represented was one in which everything is God’s. This meant that even though one rendered unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s, all of those monies and political infrastructures would ultimately fall under God’s dominion.

It’s a good point. Especially for those of us who associate Christianity with capitalism and the west. God is working powerfully in communist countries in the east. He’s not subject to our political ideologies and divisions, for He is Lord of all.

Read Matthew 21

Key Verse: Matthew 21:22 “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

This chapter includes a tough passage. First of all, it seems uncharacteristic of Jesus to be going about cursing trees, especially trees, as Mark tells us, that are out of season. Secondly, even though we’re accustomed to Jesus using hyperbole (that is, exaggerating for the sake of emphasis), as any good Semitic teacher and rabbi would do, we are thrown by His reference to physical mountains being cast into the sea, and anything being received that is asked for in prayer with faith.

What is Jesus really telling us here? “If you have faith and doubt not, or if you believe, you’ll receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” The promise in its very form excludes a literal fulfillment. The phrase, “to remove mountains,” was a natural exaggeration and Jesus is referring to the mountains of difficulty that we face every day in life; but to refer to Mount Hermon, as likely this mountain indicates, just gave a greater vividness to an illustration which the disciples could easily understand. A mere physical miracle, such as Mount Hermon being thrown into the Mediterranean, would never in itself by the object of faith as Jesus describes it. The exaggeration is mean to impress on the disciples’ mind the truth that lies beneath it.

When Jesus says that belief will see you receiving whatever you ask in prayer, there is the implied condition, as we see in chapter 7, that what is asked is in harmony with God’s law and God’s will. In fact, if it weren’t in harmony with His law and His will it wouldn’t be asked in faith. Every true prayer involves submission to God’s will in the matter. This is why we need to be very careful with a passage like this, that we don’t use it as a springboard to irresponsible praying, or prayer, as a means to a worldly end.

We must always submit what it is we ask to the greater issue of God’s will for your lives and the world and commit ourselves in a childlike way to whatever He chooses to do.

Read Matthew 19 & 20

Key Verse: Matthew 19:30 “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

A rich young man comes up to Jesus and says, “What must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus’ response is a little strange. He says “Why do you ask Me about what is good? There’s only one who is good.” The initial impression is that this is a bit of put down. But then again, maybe Jesus is just trying, as He often does, to shock His listener into attention by saying what He least expected to hear. He then gets into the expected answer. “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” He asks which ones, and Jesus says such and so. And the young fellow says, “I’ve kept all of these.” Jesus then tells him that if he wants to become perfect, to go, sell his possessions to the poor, and then he’ll have treasure in heaven. Well, the young man left him sadly, because he had a lot of money.

At this point, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach His disciples that it’s very difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples want to get a little deeper into this. In fact, they’re greatly astonished and ask, “Well then, who can be saved?” And Jesus says, “Naturally speaking, in the human realm, it’s impossible to be saved. Only with God is it possible to be saved.” Peter says, “Look, we’ve left everything to follow You. What’s going to be in it for us?” Jesus then tells them that whoever has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, will receive one hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

Then He throws in a disclaimer. Many who are first shall be last, and many who are last shall be first. This is, perhaps, to avoid any attempt on the disciples part, or on ours, to reduce entry into the kingdom of heaven to legalism such as: if you leave what’s valuable to you, or sell what is valuable, you’re guaranteed eternal life. Jesus says, “Not necessarily so.” A lot who appear to have done all this, in God’s eyes still will be lost. And many who have appeared to have neglected this, will be found. Obviously, He’s telling us, among other things, that what He said to the rich young ruler was a specific instance and shouldn’t be overly generalized.