Friday, January 24, 2020

Matthew 18

Key Verse: Matthew 18:22
Big Idea: We have been forgiven more than we could ever need to forgive.
In our chapter for today, Jesus tells a parable so vivid that it almost requires no explanation. A slave owes a stupendous debt of 10,000 talents, which is so absurd in its value that it could be paraphrased something like “a million bars of gold.” A talent was a unit of weight of about 100 pounds, and 10,000 talents of gold would have taken a day laborer over two hundred thousand years to repay. His master graciously forgives him the debt, and then he goes out and finds a man that owns him 3 or 4 months of wages. Not a small sum, but nothing in comparison to the debt which had been pardoned. He took him by the neck and threatened to throw him into prison if he did not repay the debt immediately.
The scene is simple and absurd. How could someone who had been forgiven so much be so ungrateful as to refuse to forgive others. This is Jesus’ answer to how often we must forgive our brother who sins against us: always. He says it in different ways (seventy times seven times, ten thousand talents worth), but the picture is clear.
God is the one that we sin against whenever we sin (Psalm 51), using the minds, bodies and mouths He gave us in rebellion against Him. If we have placed our faith in Jesus, we have been forgiven so much and at such great cost, that we are like the slave who owed 10,000 talents. We have been forgiven more than we could ever dream of repaying, and it is the height of ingratitude for us to withhold that same forgiveness from others. Their sin against us may be great, but it is nothing compared to what Jesus has done for us. 
Discussion idea: Why is it so hard for us to forgive, even though we know how much we love being forgiven?
Prayer focus: Pray for the perspective to see people the way that God does, and be quick to forgive like He is.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Matthew 17

Key Verse: Matthew 17:26
Big Idea: God’s children have freedom, but God gives us the resources to go beyond what is required of us.

Matthew 17 is a big chapter. Jesus is transfigured, casts out a demon and promises that if the disciples have faith like a mustard seed, they will be able to move mountains. Throughout the course of the year, we will look at each of these things, but today we are focused on something unique to Matthew: the paying of the temple tax. Every free Jewish man was required to pay an annual tax of two denarii (each worth a day of manual labor) for the maintenance of the temple, in addition to their tithes and Roman taxes.

Some tax collectors came to Peter and asked something like: “Your master pays the temple tax, doesn’t he?” Peter, without consulting with Jesus, said  “Of course!” When he returned to the house, Jesus, showing supernatural knowledge, asked him a question about whether princes needed to pay taxes or not. Of course, it was the other people who had to pay taxes, not the royal household. Jesus, as God’s Son, is then exempt from paying the temple tax, but to prevent being a stumbling block to the tax collectors, Jesus will make a payment. God’s children are free from certain man made regulations, but we are not exempt from the debts of love. Rather than stand up for His rights on principle, Jesus stands up for the tax collectors on compassion.

But Jesus and the apostles were not rich. They travelled from place to place, dependent on the kindness of the people they reached. They did not have an abundance of money to cover this tax. But Jesus announces that Peter is to go fishing and will find a single fish with enough money in its mouth to cover Jesus’ tax and (in a comic twist) Peter’s too. To try and put this into perspective, a day laborer today might expect to make $100 to $120. The temple tax would be something like $250. Jesus tells Peter to go fishing, and he will find a fish with a $500 bill in its mouth.

God expects us to go beyond what can rightly be demanded of us, but He also is the one who provides us with the resources we need to do it. Peter and Jesus would pay a tax they did not owe for the sake of the tax collectors, but would do it through a miraculous provision of a valuable coin in the mouth of a fish. When we trust God, He supplies all of our needs.

Discussion idea: Have you ever had an opportunity to choose between what you had to do and what you could do?
Prayer focus: Pray for the kind of love that Jesus had, that we will go above and beyond what we must do, for the sake of the gospel.

Matthew 16

Big Idea: God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus.

Key Verse: Matthew 16:17

Jesus took His disciples near a city called Caeserea Phillipi and asked them who people thought He was. Peter, as the spokesman for the group, offered various identifications of Jesus as one of the different prophets resurrected. But Jesus moved to a much more important question when He asked them “But who do you say that that I am?”

Peter’s answer was bold and correct: “You are the Christ/the Messiah and the Son of the Living God.” Jesus’ response was surprising: Simon son of Jonah was a blessed man, because He was not offering human answers, but the answer given to Him by God the Father. God had chosen to reveal who He was to Peter, by introducing Peter to Jesus. Jesus promised that this confession in Him was the rock on which He would build His church, which would never be overcome.

Older kids: The Romans had built a temple to worship Caesar Augustus in the city the disciples were overlooking. Jesus was presenting His disciples with a choice: who would they confess as lord? Within a few decades of Jesus’ death, Christians would be executed for refusing to worship Caesar. While individual Christians might lose their lives, the institution of the Church would persist on this rock.

Younger kids: Christ was not Jesus’ name, but His title. Christ Jesus and Jesus Christ are comparable to saying King George or George the King.

We are in the same position as Peter, because that church Jesus built has continued through the ages. Sometimes His churches were in hiding, sometimes they were strong, sometimes they were many and sometimes they were few, but they continued confessing His name and were never overcome. Like Peter, this is not a human triumph, but a divine one. We could never know what this King is like by our own reasoning or strength, but we know who He is because He has come and revealed Himself to us. We do not need to wonder what God is like, because He has shown us who He is by becoming a man and dying on the cross for us. We could never climb up to Him, but in love, He has come down to us.

Discussion idea: How does the way God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus give us confidence in good times and bad? How does Jesus’ promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church encourage us to be bold even in the face of loss?

Prayer focus
: Pray that, just as God reveals Himself to us when it is time to be saved, that He would continue to reveal His will for our lives to us as we learn more about Jesus.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Matthew 15

Key verse: Matthew 15:28

Big Idea: Faith is the defining boundary of the people of God.

Matthew introduces us to a woman with a demon possessed daughter by describing her as a woman of Canaan. Canaanite was not a current term in Jesus' day, but was well known to the Jews as the old name for the pagan nations that the Israelites had expelled from the land. Matthew using this term to describe her, as Jesus was on the outskirts of Gentile territory, was clearly deliberately loaded language. The historic enemy of God's people was coming up and asking Jesus for help; how would He respond?

Jesus did not respond the way that we would expect. He ignored this woman's pleas. It must have seemed like a hard posture from this One who was so loving, but she persisted.  The disciples came and asked Jesus to go ahead and heal her so she would go away., but He announced that it was not right to give the children's bread to the dogs. If silence was cold, this was seemingly cruel. How could Jesus - the lamb that takes away the sin of the world who had already healed a centurion's servant - treat her like this?

But still, she persisted, and said that even the dogs got the children's crumbs. She simultaneously expressed her own unworthiness and her confidence in Jesus' super abundant resources. Then, Jesus praised her for her faith and healed her daughter with a word. Jesus put her through a painful circumstance to draw out her faith, and when it had been revealed rewarded her dramatically. Although Jesus' ministry before his crucifixion was as the Messiah of Israel, He kept one eye on the greater plan to build a new people, not marked by food, clothes or ancestry but by faith.

Discussion idea: How does God use painful circumstances to shape us into the people He wants for us to be?

Prayer focus: Pray for us to see God's love, even when His hands are firm.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Matthew 14

Big Idea: The victory of God’s Kingdom may seem delayed, but it is certain.
Key Verse: Matthew 14:9
We live in an instant society. We pull into a hamburger restaurant and complain that the lunch which would have taken us half an hour to make at home takes nearly ten minutes. Our impatience with minor inconveniences is multiplied many times over when we are forced to realize that we cannot put God on our timetable. He will accomplish His will in His time, and His view of perfect timing might be quite different than our own. 

John the Baptist had done everything right. He answered God’s call to preach, baptized myriads of people, proclaimed the identity of Jesus as the Lamb of God and ultimately been thrown into prison for calling out the sins of the powerful. He had sent word to Jesus, asking whether He was the promised Messiah, and Jesus had called John the best man ever born of woman. Yet, this Messiah who raised the dead and healed the lame did not break John out of prison. The Messiah that he placed his faith in continued to teach and preach while John sat in prison. John was executed with Herod still on the throne, his faith in a coming kingdom still unrealized.

Of course, John’s faith was not misplaced, and Jesus’ Kingdom will be established. God has not fallen asleep or abandoned His promises, He simply is not bound by our ideas of expediency. We might not see God’s promises fulfilled in our entire lifetime, but we can know by faith that they will be.

Older kids: Ask the kids about the fear of death, and how it affects our ability to trust God with what happens after we draw our last breath. It is only possible with the security of salvation and eternal life.

Younger kids: Talk to younger kids about a time when they were impatient, but eventually got what they needed. 

Discussion idea: How do you think John the Baptist could reconcile the idea that Jesus was the true King of Israel with the fact that Herod was still on the throne?

Prayer focus: Pray for the kind of faith in the middle of struggles that gives us real patience.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Matthew 13

Key Verse: Matthew 13:30

Big Idea: Different people will grow at their own pace and in their own way, but the spark of life that Jesus puts in us will grow and change us from the inside out.

It is the time of year when many people begin making preparations for a vegetable garden. Unfortunately for the impatient among us, there is a long time between golden seed and bright red tomato. The beginning and the end product seem very different, and yet there is a continuity: the life of the seed will develop into the life of the plant, and then the life of the fruit. Tomatoes will grow in their time and with their own level of production, peppers in a different way and okra in still another, but if the plant’s roots took hold and it is given the proper nourishment, it will grow.

Some of the best known parables of Jesus come from agriculture, and probably none is better known than the parable of the sower. The message of the parable is simple: the life that God gives will grow slowly and steadily, if it has taken root, and although some people will bear more fruit than others, God’s power will shine through.  

Another parable at the end of the chapter gives an important warning: like wheat and tares are hard to distinguish until they have fully grown, sometimes the true and the false cannot be distinguished until the harvest. We cannot judge another person’s relationship with God from outward appearances, because sometimes those that seem to be the strongest at the beginning have no roots, and those that seem to be delayed will eventually bring a great harvest. The only thing we can do is look in our own hearts for signs of life, and nurture that life so it can carry out its natural function: more life!

Discussion idea: A seed can only become a new plant by dying. How does our bearing fruit for Jesus’ Kingdom require us to “die”? Different plants bear different amounts and kinds of fruit, how does that parallel the differences in our Christian lives?
Prayer focus: Pray that we will see people with the kind of patient love that God does, while still remaining faithful to the fact that only the seed og the gospel can give life.  

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Matthew 12

Key Verse: Matthew 12:7
Big Idea: Jesus looks for an obedience that goes beyond the superficial.

When Jesus and His disciples were walking on the Sabbath day, the disciples reached out and picked some grain to eat. Although this was permitted under the Sabbath law (Deuteronomy 23:25), the oral law of Jesus’ day (an elaborate set of traditions that expanded on the Old Testament) forbade it. The Pharisees came to Jesus and challenged him about this, and His response is very interesting.

Rather than challenging the validity of the oral law directly, Jesus makes three comparisons. (1) King David broke the letter of the law by taking the shewbread from the Temple when he was on the run from King Saul, (2) the priests violated the Sabbath because their temple duties outweighed the prohibition of work on Saturday and (3) he explained that if they understood that God wanted mercy more than sacrifice, they would have not have condemned the disciples.

Implicit in these comparisons is Jesus’ superiority to (1) the temple, (2) the Sabbath and (3) King David. While people could experience God’s presence serving in the Temple, Jesus’ disciples were serving God come down in human flesh – the perfect temple, not build by human hands. Although the Sabbath  gave people a kind of rest from work, Jesus was the one who promised total, perfect rest from work – by being justified by faith in Christ alone, not in what we do. King David was a good ruler who united the people, but Jesus is the eternal King who reigns over all the earth.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were obsessed with obedience to the shadows and symbols, while missing the main thing. They were careful in their obedience to the specific instructions of the Bible while missing the nature of the very heart of God. God wants to transform us at the most fundamental level with His love, and seeking to satisfy Him with ritualistic observance misses the point entirely. He wants mercy, not sacrifice.

Discussion idea: Why was it easier for the Pharisees to keep hundreds of elaborate rules than to embrace the simplicity of a transformed heart?

Prayer focus: Pray for an awareness of the beauty of worshiping God in the person of Jesus, rather than at any physical building.