Friday, February 21, 2020

Hebrews 10

Key Verse: Hebrews 10:26
Big Idea: If we reject the Son of God, there is no plan B.

The story is told about a man who got some terrible news from a doctor. He was certain to die unless he had a medication which would cost more than a million dollars, which he did not have and could not hope to get. A single vial was all he needed, but it was so far out of reach. He fell to his knees and sobbed, begging the doctor for mercy, begging the doctor to find some way to get him the medicine. When he left, the doctor sought out to do just that:cashing out retirement, working extra hours and more. For the patient, it was unattainable, for the doctor, possible, but painful. A few weeks later, the doctor called the patient to meet him at the office at a certain time. The patient arrived shortly before the doctor did, but when he did come through the door, his hair was disheveled, his white shirt was splattered with fresh blood and a single red vial was in his hand.

“I have it. I raised the money, and found out there was only one vial left in the trial. I knew that you would not make it to the next round, so I drove too fast across town and my car was hit. My son died in the accident, but I told the police that I had to get back here, or someone else would die too.’ Exhausted, he handed the vial to the patient and collapsed in the chair.

The patient took the vial, looked at it and poured it on the carpet, where it soaked into the fibers, lost forever. “I don’t want this one. Isn’t there something else you can do for me? Doctor, I don’t want to die. You have to help me.”

If there were another way, would the doctor have given up everything, including his own son? Of course not. And with this sacrifice rejected, there is no other sacrifice to give. The parallel is clear, with the death of Jesus God purchased our deliverance. If we reject that gift we condemn ourselves and mock the price paid so we could receive it. If we reject Jesus there is no plan B, no hope, only “the fearful expectation of judgement.” We must recognize we are sinners and come to the Son of God for forgiveness. There is no plan B.

Discussion Idea: What is the gift you have given someone that you are most proud of? What did it cost you? How would you feel if it was rejected?

Prayer Focus: Ask God to help us realize that goodness, religious rituals, and everything else we can do are no substitute for being born again.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Hebrews 9

Key Verse: Hebrews 9:26
Big Idea: The Son of God saves us once and for all.

Did you make your bed this morning? How about brush your teeth? Do you ever notice how dishes seem to keep piling up? The truth is that many of the tasks of our daily lives are never done and never can be done. You may think all of the laundry is done, but you are already wearing the next set of dirty clothes. Housework is never finished. There is never any rest. Is our relationship with God an eternal treadmill like that, where we can stay on if we continue to put in the effort, but will fall off the back the moment we let up?

A lot of people think so. They assume that pir relationship with God is about continually proving ourselves to Him and eventually doing more good things than bad. But this is not the picture the Bible describes. The Bible says that we can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). That confidence is not possible if it depends on our efforts tomorrow or the next day. It is only possible because the Son of God ascended to Heaven with the perfect sacrifice - Himself - and purged our sins once and for all. He does not need to be sacrificed over and over again, because there are always more sins.

If we try and get to God by our own goodness, we will never have any rest or any success, because the treatment will never be able to get past the surface to where the real problem lies. In fact, by adding in self-righteousness, all of our good works give us more that needs to be cleansed, rather than less (Hebrews 9:14). Only one thing will do the job: the blood of Jesus received in faith. He died once and for all, so that when we die, we can live with Him.

Discussion idea: How would your life be different if every day's sins required more sacrifice? What confidence can we have in knowing that Jesus had made a way for all of our sins to be covered before we were even born?
Prayer focus: Pray for forgiveness for our own self-righteousness and ask Jesus to help hs to trust that His work is good enough for all time.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Hebrews 8

Key Verse: Hebrews 8:1-2
Big Idea: In the Son of God, we find the bridge between Heaven and Earth.

One of the most frustrating experiences which I have driving in cities is the ability to see where I want to be, without an easy way of getting there. With most of the highways in Houston under perpetual construction, sometimes it seems like it is just impossible to get from point A to point B. It is there, tantalizing but untouchable. In a sense, worshiping God ought to be like that. We can look at the heavens, the mountains or the oceans and see God's power. God's skill and wisdom are displayed in the delicate balance of the laws of physics, the patter of a hummingbird's wings or the complexity of the trillions of cells that make up our bodies. On our own, we could see that there was someone to worship, but could never actually get there.

We know who God is, not because of the might of our brains, but because He has come down and revealed Himself to us. He gave us the Law and the Prophets to tell us about who He was, what His expectations were and what He does. To begin to bridge the gap, He gave Moses plans for the tabernacle, where each element served as a shallow shadow of the spiritual realities.

Younger kids: When playing pretend, what could you use to remind you or a horse? What about a castle? God used the symbols like the temple and tabernacle to tell His people about what Heaven was like, although they could not see it directly.

Jesus goes beyond the pictures of the Old Testament and, as the God-Man who came down to earth, staggers both Earth and Heaven. He serves as the bridge that gives humanity access to God, as the place where Heaven and Earth collide. In the Temple’s Holy of Holies, Jews believed that Heaven came down and touched the Earth. But Jesus claimed that these were all shadows of the true place God would come to dwell: Him. He, as our great High Priest, gives us access to the real Heaven. We can really know and worship that God that otherwise we could never touch. In Jesus, God reaches down to us and in Jesus, we are given the pathway to God.

Discussion idea: Why did we need a bridge to connect us to God? What are some of the things that keep us from accessing Him directly?  
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help us to see the permanent, spiritual reality that He gives us access to, and to realize that those unseen things are eternal, while the visible and material things are temporary.     

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Hebrews 7

Key Verse: Hebrews 7:26

Big Idea: The Son of God is our perfect priest.

Hebrews 7 involves a complex argument. In the Old Testament (Genesis 14:17-20), after rescuing his nephew Lot in a battle, Abraham gave a tithe (the first ten percent) of the spoils to the Gentile king of a city called Salem, which would later be known as Jerusalem. That king, Melchizedek (mel-KIZ-uh-dek), was only mentioned in one other Old Testament text (Psalm 110:4) that predicted God would raise up another priest after the order of Melchizedek. The anonymous author of Hebrews explains that Melchizedek serves as a portrait of Jesus: with no genealogy listed, no birth and no death, he points to the King and Priest who would be born of a virgin, and live forever. In fact, Abraham paying a tithe to a priest showed that his grandson Levi would not be the father of the only legitimate priesthood. When the Son of God became the eternal high priest, He would not be reversing what had come before, but going back to fulfill the original model.

In the Old Testament, priests would make sacrifices for their own sins, and once purified kill animals for the sins of the people. There was no forgiveness by ancestry, citizenship or future good works, only by a conscious decision to come and ask the priest to intercede on their behalf. Jesus, the ultimate high priest, did not need to make any sacrifice for Himself - he is eternally sinless. He did not offer animals as the bloody reminder that sin deserved death, but offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice.

This is the kind of high priest who we need. Not someone weak, who might fall into sin and need another priest to intercede for them. Not someone mortal, who might through illness or death be unable to help, even if willing. Not someone who sits like the angels, untouched by our suffering. Not someone indistinguishable from us, who might offer comfort but no help. No, we needed a high priest who was fully human and fully divine, holy and blameless, exalted above the heavens.

It is not enough to believe in God intellectually. It is not enough to be "good," because all of us have sinned. We must go to this High Priest, confess our sin, and let His sacrifice make us clean. He is willing and able to bring us peace with God, if we will ask Him. All we have to do is admit that we are sinners, deserving God's judgment, believe that Jesus died on our behalf and rose again and call on Him to save us. Why not now?

Discussion idea: When was a time that someone made peace between you and someone else? What did they need to do that? How is Jesus the supreme example of that?

Prayer focus: Pray to God, thanking Him for the opportunity to pray to Him because Jesus has made peace.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Hebrews 6

Key Verse: Hebrews 6:19
Big Idea: The Son of God is our anchor.

When people say things, sometimes they follow through, and sometimes they do not. When they don't, sometimes it is their fault, and sometimes it it beyond their control. Because of this uncertainty, when someone wants to assure you that they are going to make a particular effort, they say things like "I promise." Jesus taught that Christians should not need these kinds of oaths, because we should be people of such integrity that when we say "yes," people know we mean "yes," and when we say "no," people know we mean "no." But with God, the situation is even more dramatic. He never lies, and can always accomplish what He says: His word needs no special assurances, because He is faithful and true to everything He says. Yet, when He made His promise to Abraham, He did swear. He went beyond what He really needed to do to reassure us that our hope was secure. 

When we face difficulties in this life, we can know that God's promise to make us His own is sealed with an oath, and testified by the death of His Son. We can hold tight to the refuge we have found, because it will never move. The author of Hebrews uses a powerful image: our hope is an anchor for our souls. For a boat, an anchor means that you are secure no matter what happens on the surface, and our hope in God is the same way. Jesus has promised that all of us who put our faith in Him are secure, and no tossing and turning of life can shake that anchor. 

The anchor of our hope is not in an abstract idea or theological construct. The anchor of our hope is Jesus Himself, who entered into the throne of Heaven, giving us a link to the very heart of God, and who has promised to come again and receive us to Himself. We have an anchor because we know that the greatest struggles of this life were already beaten by Jesus. We have an anchor because we know that whatever struggles we face, we have a perfect advocate in Heaven. We have an anchor because we know that the same Jesus who is enthroned in Heaven is coming again to end death and pain once and for all. While the waves of this life may toss us side to side, we know that beneath the surface, God's plan is secure. The Son of God is our anchor!

Discussion idea: When was a time that you felt unstable and insecure? How did someone help you to feel better? How does Jesus' role as our anchor help us to handle the storms of life?

Prayer focus: Identify some turbulence in your life, and specifically pray for God to be your anchor in those areas.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Hebrews 5

Key Verse: Hebrews 5:12

Big Idea: The Son of God teaches the sons and daughters of God how to grow up.

Growing up is a gradual process. We trade being carried for crawling, crawling for walking, and walking for running. Strollers give way to tricycles, tricycles give way to bicycles with training wheels, the training wheels fall away and eventually, all of them are left in the rearview mirror when a teenager gets a vehicle with a rearview mirror. Each of these is appropriate at one phase, but like a baby driving a car or a 30-year-old being swaddled and carried, when someone's behavior does not match their phase, something is wrong.

The author of Hebrews reprimanded the Hebrew Christians for their hard hearts. They had been believers for a long time, yet had never fully grasped the most basic principles of the faith. Instead of growing up, they happily stayed on their tricycles, covering the same ground over and over again. Yet, their older sibling, the Son of God, showed the example of growing up by obedience. Jesus, our High Priest, lived a life of prayer and obedience to become the perfect (or complete) mediator and set the example for us of how we too can be complete. Do we know how to read God's Word and live by it? Then we are mature. If not, we are babies.

This is, like growing up physically, a process. Every time we study God's Word, we are faced with the choice of obedience or disobedience. If we choose obedience, then our spiritual muscles grow stronger, and we will be better equipped to face the next test. If we choose disobedience, our spiritual muscles will atrophy, and we will slide further away from God. The more we exercise obedience, the stronger we will be to differentiate and choose between good and evil. That is what it means to grow up.

Discussion idea: What part of growing up has been the hardest for you physically? Why? Spiritually? Why?

Prayer focus: Think about a specific area of weakness in your life. Pray for the wisdom to know the right thing to do, and the strength and courage to do it.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Hebrews 4

Key Verse: Hebrews 4:14
Big Idea: We can rest in the perfect work of the Son of God.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days. On the seventh day, He rested on His throne: His work completed. Millenia later, He called out His people Israel from slavery in Egypt and gave them 10 commandments, one of which was to rest on the seventh day. When they finally entered the Promised Land, Joshua extended the hope of rest. Yet, in David’s day, the promise of rest was still offered for those who would not harden their hearts. Rest was something more than not working one day a week (as if God had been tired after creating the world) or of having an end of war. The rest that God really offers was something deeper, rooted in a more profound peace.

Younger kids: When were you the most tired you have ever been? What did resting to you mean then? Can you really rest when you are afraid?

When God rested at the end of the creation week, it was because His work was all accomplished. He ceased from His labor and sat on His throne because He had completed what needed to be done. When the Israelites rested on the Sabbath day, they were not copying God, but trusting Him. If the maker of Heaven and Earth still sits on the throne, then I can go to sleep at night or take a day off from my labor, because He still reigns. When Joshua offered rest to the Israelites, or when David warned them about hardening their hearts, it was not a promise of ending all fighting, but an offer to recognize that God would fight their battles - if they would let Him.

Today, we have a supernatural rest. Our enemies (sin and death) have been defeated, and the work is already done. There is no need for us to scurry around, trying to earn God’s favor. Instead, we have the incredible rest of knowing that the Son of God meant it when He said “It is finished!” One day, when Jesus returns, we will have the full rest of having sin, pain and death vanquished once and for all, but even now, we experience it spiritually. If we accept it in faith, today there is a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

Older kids: Have you ever tried really hard to earn someone’s approval? What is the difference in the “rest” that comes from knowing someone loves you unconditionally versus the insecurity and fear of constantly trying to measure up. 

Discussion idea: What are some ways we try to earn God’s favor? Why do we try to do that? Do you see that in any other area of your life?
Prayer focus: Pray that God will give us the faith to rest in the work Jesus finished when He died for us and rose again.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Hebrews 3

Key Verse: Hebrews 3:13

Big Idea: The Son of God gives us the other sons and daughters of God to encourage us.

It is easy for our hearts to get hardened. Things do not go the way that we think they should, people let us down or we try and justify our own failings. But no matter the explanation, the result is the same. We get more vulnerable to sin, less dedicated to prayer and further from God's will in our lives. Worse still, hardness leads to hardness. Like a callous that continues to get thicker because irritating it no longer hurts, the harder our hearts get, the easier it is for us to wander down heart hardening paths. This is not a new problem; in Moses' day, it kept the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. They did not trust God when He spoke, and so they hardened their hearts against Him and lost the opportunity to experience His rest.

Is there a solution? Does God give us any tools to avoid such a dangerous path? He does, but it might seem too simple for some of us to embrace. The vaccine against a hard heart is our local church. Not just Sunday services (although those are important, as we will see later in Hebrews), but being challenged and encouraged by our brothers and sisters daily. When I am weak, someone else in my church is strong and can help sustain me. When I am strong, someone else in my church is weak and needs me. We have to exhort each other today before the deceitfulness of sin can take root in our hearts. The Christian life is too hard to live alone, so the Son of God gave us brothers and sisters.

Discussion idea: Who is someone in your life than can encourage you or correct you when you get out of step with God?
Prayer focus: It is easy for us to get defensive when confronted, instead of grateful. Pray that we will have humble hearts which will appreciate the loving

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Hebrews 2

Key Verse: Hebrews 2:14
Big Idea: The Son of God became the Son of Man so the sons of men could become sons of God.

We know by faith that God has promised us a role as joint-heirs of Jesus, but we do not see that revealed in our world yet. Instead, we see Jesus and what He did: humbled Himself to become a Man so that He could taste death for every human being who would ever live. Because He has paid the price and laid the path for us to be His brothers and sisters, we know that He will finish what He started.

Younger kids: What are some things that brothers and sisters have in common? If we are Jesus' brothers and sisters when we get saved, what are some things we should have in common with Him?

But when Jesus takes us into a new family, He is also distancing us from an old one. We leave the house of slavery to join the house of the Son of God, breaking the Devil's bonds of sin that lead to death and replacing them with the bonds of love. Jesus became like us and lived a perfect life, so that He could be a merciful High Priest. He has been tempted like we are, so He knows the struggle of temptation, but He never gave in, so He is able to approach the Father on our behalf and bring us forgiveness.

Older kids: Have you ever gone through something that you felt like most people did not understand? What difference does it make to know that someone knows what you are going through?
Jesus left the splendors of Heaven to come to the sin-wrecked Earth. He died for the sins of all mankind, taking the punishment that we all deserved. He returned to Heaven, but not to live there alone, but to let all of the people who trust in Him to join Him in glory and worship forever together. What a High Priest! What a Savior!

Discussion idea: Jesus humbled Himself by becoming like us, so that we could become like Him. What are some lesser ways that we can come to people on their level, to show them God's love through us?
Prayer focus: Pray for opportunities to follow Jesus' example of humility and compassion, whether sharing the gospel, meeting a physical need or just being there for someone.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Hebrews 1

Key verse: Hebrews 1:2

Big Idea: The Son of God is the ultimate revelation of God.

Our study through the New Testament in a year moves from Matthew, the gospel of fulfillment, to Hebrews, the letter of the supremacy of Jesus. I have put these together because they are both rich in Old Testament allusions, and help us to see how God's plan is the same from beginning to end. Everything in Israel's religion and history pointed forward to Jesus, and He supersedes and fulfills everything which went before. Hebrews is the book about moving beyond symbols and pictures into the heavenly reality ushered in by Jesus Christ. The Supremacy of the Son of God is in many ways the theme of this powerful book.

In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself in many ways. He spoke through prophetic utterances, through visions and dreams. Even the laws and historical records of the Old Testament taught the people about who God is, by revealing what He values and what He resists. These all truly revealed God's identity, but incompletely. But now, God has shown us who He is by sending His Son into the world. While the previous revelations were partial, this one is total, to such an extent that if we reject Jesus, we have rejected God (1 John 2:23). Jesus is God's face pressed into our world, and it is only through Jesus that we can know God personally.

Hebrews 1 reveals several ways that Jesus reveals to us who God is. First, He is the one who made and sustains the entire cosmos (Hebrews 1:2-3). Second, He has purged our sins by His blood, when He died on the cross as the innocent sacrifice for our sins and offered Himself up as our great high priest (Hebrews 1:3). Third, He lived a sinless life, choosing good and rejecting evil (Hebrews 1:9). Finally, He sits enthroned as the eternal king (Hebrews 1:10). When we see the Lamb that was slain, giving us life from an eternal throne, we truly know who God is.

Younger kids: Draw a picture that represents someone you love. What would you put around them or in their hands so someone looking at the picture would understand who they are?

Older kids: How do some stories you know from the Old Testament partially teach these same things that are revealed finally in Jesus?

Discussion idea: What are some false ideas people have about God which would be corrected by a better study of Jesus?
Prayer focus: Praise God for His humility in revealing Himself to us, and pray for the desire to know Him better.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Matthew 28

Big Idea: Jesus the King sends us out to bring people in.
Key Verse: Matthew 28:19

Matthew 28 is the triumphant conclusion of the story of Jesus’ earthly life. He came to bring in the Kingdom, but was rejected by the very people He came to liberate. While He healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons, the people failed to recognize Him. Jesus came to be the Messiah, the Christ, of Israel, but they (with the Roman government’s consent) gave Him a crown of thorns and a mocking title on a cross. Rejected by the religious and secular elites, Jesus then hung on a cross and cried out about being forsaken by God Himself. Bearing the sins of the world, Jesus died alone.

But on the third day, everything changed. Death could not hold the One who invented life, and He rose to life again. The angel rolled away the stone so that people could see He had risen, and their faith did not rest on a philosophical theory, but a historical event: the day that Jesus rose again. Rising again, He reclaimed all of the glory He had temporarily laid aside for His ministry and reclaimed His eternal Kingdom. No longer did He tell His disciples to go to the nation of Israel alone, but He announced that all authority in Heaven and Earth was His - and as the rightful King, His people were to take the good news of His Kingdom to the world.

Their old master of sin was defeated, because all of their sins were forgiven by the perfect sacrifice. Their old master of death was dead, because Jesus Himself made the path to life. Their old masters of sorrow, fear and pain were swallowed up by hope. The old slave drivers have passed away: a new King has come, and He is (in the words of the Jesus Storybook Bible) making all the sad things come untrue. He did not come with swords or armies, but simply with Himself. His Kingdom is not expanded by force, but by faith. Faith in His finished work and perfect life is the good news that we must accept, and our mission is to take that message out to the people who are still in chains, that they can come into God’s family. We take that message to them, let them publicly identify as Jesus’ servants through baptism, and teach them how to live the way He taught. But it all begins with going to those outside and bringing them in.

Discussion idea: Have you ever been lonely and had someone reach out to you? What did that feel like? Have you ever reached out to someone who was by themselves? What makes us do that, or not do that?
Prayer focus: Pray for a specific person who needs to be saved, or for a saved person who needs the encouragement to continue walking with God. Write their initials on a small piece of paper or a sticky note to be reminded to pray for them for the next week.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Matthew 27

Key Verse: Matthew 27:51

Big Idea: When Jesus passed through death, He gave us the path to life.

Matthew 27 is clearly one of the most important chapters in the Bible. Jesus is delivered over to the Romans to be executed. The crowds, given the choice between the notorious criminal Barabbas and Jesus called for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified. He was mocked, beaten and finally executed. Up to that point, the most extraordinary thing was simply how ordinary it all was:  could the Messiah really die like so many others had before Him?

But there were clues that the death of Jesus was different. He did not defend Himself before Pilate, the sun turned dark as He hung on the cross and He even prayed for the ones killing Him. Death is the most ordinary thing a human being can do - the mortality rate is 100% - but there was something extraordinary about how Jesus did it. Something was going on behind the scenes: His cry about His Father forsaking Him was enough to show that. But what? When Jesus died, a much bigger clue was given. Before the holiest part of the Temple (the Holy of Holies), where God showed His glory and where the ark of the covenant sat, was a special curtain which only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year. When Jesus died, there was a great earthquake, and the that curtain tore from the top to the bottom. God sent a divine sign that Jesus’ death was the sacrifice that tore down the barrier between us and Him, giving us access to the presence of God through the Son.

Incredibly, Jesus passing through death prepared the way for us to enter into life. He broke down the barriers of sin that kept us away from God, and gave us the opportunity to access God. When He rose again, a representative group of saints rose too leaving their tombs that had been broken open in the earthquake. The door is opened by His death, and His eternal life gives us the power to walk through.

Discussion idea: Have you ever wanted to go somewhere that you could not? What does it mean to have a friend on the inside? What do we gain by gaining access to God in Christ?

Prayer focus: Pray for comfort for those mourning loved ones, and for a renewed passion to share the one way to God.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Matthew 26

Key Verse: Matthew 26:75

Big Idea: When Jesus went to the cross, He was alone so we never have to be.

The final days of Jesus' earthly ministry were marked by dramatic contrasts. At Bethany, a woman (we learn her name was Mary in John 12:3, although Matthew does not give her name) poured expensive perfume on Jesus' body, worth a year's wages. The disciples were outraged, but Jesus told them that she was doing a beautiful thing: preparing His body for burial. This must have seemed like a strange claim, and even Mary could not have understood it - surely the Messiah was not going to die! But when she would go the following Sunday to His tomb, there would be no corpse to anoint, because Jesus has already risen again. She loved Him but did not understand Him, yet things would get worse.

Judas left the house to go to the chief priests and betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and within a few days, everything was set into motion. Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples, spoke about His body and His blood, but they still did not understand what He was going to do. He looked around the dinner table, knowing that Judas had already betrayed Him, Peter would deny Him and the rest would desert Him. What He came to do, He had to face by Himself - but not for Himself. The people who could not stand by Him were the very ones that He loved enough to give His life for.

Older kids: What would you do if you knew you only had a few days left to live? How does that compare with the way Jesus spent His last days, and even His last hours?

Younger kids: Have you ever been lonely? How do you think Jesus felt when all of His friends left Him alone?  Are we ever really alone?

Out in the cool of the night, Peter swore that He would never deny Jesus, even if everyone else did - even if he had to die with Jesus. All the other disciples were just a certain, and just as wrong. Jesus asked them to pray with Him, but they fell asleep instead. He called out to His Father, asking if there was any way other than the cross, but accepted that there was not. Then, Judas came with the soldiers, the disciples scattered like sheep without a shepherd and Peter denied three times that He even knew who Jesus was, while Jesus was being beaten and preparing to die for Peter. In the morning, Jesus would cry out: "My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

The answer to Jesus' question is important. Jesus was forsaken by His friends and His Father on the cross because He bore the consequences of all of our sin. Sin separates us from God and separates us from each other, so Jesus was entirely alone. But because Jesus has taken that penalty of sin, we do not have to. Our sin does not need to separate us from God, because if we ask for forgiveness, God has already provided a free way to have it! Peter denied Jesus, but Jesus never abandoned Peter. Jesus was alone, but we never have to be, because He is with us always (Matthew 28:20).

Discussion idea: What does it mean that Jesus was separated from God? What does it mean for us that even if we stumble, Jesus remains faithful to us?

Prayer focus: Pray for the assurance that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, and for the faithfulness to never deny Him.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Matthew 25

Key Verse: Matthew 25:40
Big Idea: Be ready! The King will separate the true from the false.

In the second half of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus taught about the nature of the coming judgment. He used several parables about the importance of being prepared for His return and described the nature of the judgment on those who are unprepared. One parable, describing the sheep and goats, is hardly a parable at all. Jesus does not lay out a realistic scenario about how a shepherd might interact with a mixed flock but uses the images of sheep and goats as part of direct teaching on how the world will be judged. The image itself is simple: a shepherd would let his sheep and his goats graze together during the day but would separate them at night.

In the same way, Jesus will come on the last day to distinguish between those who are His and those who are not. They are distinguished by their nature - no amount of goat-like behavior by a sheep would ever make it into a goat - but their behavior reveals their nature. The sheep are the ones who have shown love to other Christians (Jesus’ brothers), by caring for them when they were sick, visiting them in prison, feeding them when they were hungry and receiving them when they were foreigners. The goats showed that they were goats by failing to do the same. Why was the way they treated each other so important? Jesus revealed that what they did for other Christians, they were really doing for Him.

If we really love God, we will love other people, and if we do not love other people, we reveal that we do not really love God. Our heart shows itself through our actions, and there will be no uncertainty in Jesus’ judgment.  By nature, we are all goats and show it by the fact that we all sin and come short of the glory of God. But by grace, if we admit that we are sinners to Jesus, but ask Him in faith to change our hearts, he makes us into new creatures, and that change is revealed by a different kind of action. Superficial changes will not fool the King, and we can never behave our way into being something we are not. Ultimately, we need to be ready for the day that Jesus makes the final separation.

Discussion idea: Is it possible for us to definitively distinguish between people who are sheep and people who are goats today? Why or why not?
Prayer focus: Pray to recognize the image of God in others, and to treat serving others as worship of God.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Matthew 24

Key Verse: Matthew 24:14
Big Idea: Be ready! The King is coming.

Matthew 24 and Matthew 25 are called the Olivet Discourse - a sermon preached by Jesus about the end of the world. He predicted the total destruction of the Temple, which would happen in AD 70, and His disciples assumed this must be the final event of history. The beginning of the passage is interesting, because it is so misunderstood. Jesus talks about wars, earthquakes, famines and plagues, and people tend to identify these as the signs of the end. Just Jesus’ point is basically the opposite: these things must happen, but this is not how the world ends.

War is horrible, and can cause unimaginable sufferings, but it will not be any human conflict which completes history. Plagues and famines may take a tremendous toll on human life, but they will not be the death knell of our world. Jesus’ disciples will be persecuted, arrested and hated for following Jesus, but the world does not end when they have been overcome. God is waiting on something different: the gospel to be preached to all nations. When that has been accomplished, then the end will come. This is no light distinction: the end of the world is not the defeat of God’s plan and people, but its triumph. When the chance to accept Christ has permeated every place, God will finally judge the world justly.

Why has Jesus not come back already? Because He is waiting on as many people to be saved as will, before He punishes sin and rescues His people. The path there might be rocky, but the destination is known. That means we need to be ready for it, not by stockpiling food or building underground bunkers, but finding the safety that only comes from faith in Jesus. If we have come to Him for forgiveness, then the final judgment is not something we will fear, but something we will celebrate.

Younger kids: Have you ever seen a movie or TV show that scared you? Is it as scary the second time, when you know what happens? 
Older kids: There is a lot of fear in our world about war, climate change and disease. These things are often real threats, but what does it mean for us to know that they will not be victorious over humanity? Can it affect the way that we prioritize our lives?

Discussion idea: When have you had to do something quickly because you knew that your parents/boss/spouse would be there soon? If e do not know exactly when Jesus will return, but know He will, how should we be prepared?
Prayer focus: Go to and find an unreached people group to read about. Pray specifically that God would send workers there, and that they might be saved. Or, if you have Facebook, watch this short video about the work that the Reynolds family is doing in Indonesia and pray for their work among the Yetfa:

Friday, January 31, 2020

Matthew 23

Key Verse: Matthew 23:28

Big Idea: God does not look at the outside, but the heart.

Matthew 23 is almost the antithesis of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus had listed various descriptions of the blessed person, but here, He describes those who are under God's judgment. Woe, He said, to the Pharisees and the hypocrites. In each case, Jesus recognized their external righteousness and obedience, but condemned them because it went no deeper. They obeyed the letter of the law, but missed the spirit of it. One of Jesus' pictures is particularly vivid: imagine being told to wash a cup, and washing the outside, while leaving the inside dirty. Perhaps you technically followed instructions, but you obviously did not do what the person wanted.

It is easy enough for us to do something that looks like obedience or holiness, but God is clearly not impressed. Jesus’ words against the Pharisees are strong, going so far as to compare the Pharisees to tombs – beautiful on the outside, but full of death. There is no good kind of sin, whether subtle or flagrant, but there is something especially dangerous about hypocrisy. If someone is caught up in major sin, the are often aware of their sinfulness and are willing to seek desperation. The hypocrite is just as sinful, but has convinced herself (and sometimes other people) that she does not need repentance or forgiveness.

A good doctor does not treat the symptoms of a disease without curing the underlying problem; pain, fever or swelling is useful, because it lets us know that there is a problem. There is no one whose condition is so helpless as the one who does not realize they are sick. God is not satisfied with reforming the outside, or with our own efforts to look good, but with the condition of our hearts. When He changes our hearts through faith in Jesus, everything on the outside will follow.

Discussion idea: Have you ever done something because of how it would look to other people? Why is this kind of temptation so powerful for us?
Prayer focus: Pray for God to search our hearts, and help us to see our hidden faults for Him to forgive and cleanse.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Matthew 22

Key Verse: Matthew 22:40
Big Idea: The whole Law of God’s Kingdom is built on love.

One of my favorite snacks is stovetop popcorn. Pouring the oil, salt and corn into the Whirly Pop and cranking it while unimpressive kernels become beautiful vessels for butter is a very soothing ritual. I also love spicy food, so one of my favorite things to do for popcorn is to add Julio’s seasoning mix and Tabasco sauce. If everything is not just right, the Tabasco will caramelize on the bottom of the pan, and instead of having popcorn that is lightly spicy throughout, you will have dark little chunks of spice, where the sauce has condensed. Those little chunks are salty and spicy - they are Tabasco sauce, intensified.

If you took the Bible, and boiled it down to its very essence, what would you have? Not animal sacrifices or elaborate rituals, which Hebrews says could never get to the real problem. Not holidays, that pointed forward to coming events or remembered past ones. When they were testing Him in our chapter, Jesus said you would have the greatest commandment: to love God with all of your heart, soul and mind. The second is of the same essence: love your neighbor as yourself. Boiled down, the essence of the Bible is love.

Both elements of the Bible have this same theme: the narrative of the Bible is the story of how, despite humanity’s rebellion, God’s love never stopped pursuing us, ultimately to a cross. The commandments of the Bible are all carried out by a person full of love. We do not murder or steal from those we love, and will not blaspheme or worship idols if we love God. The two commandments are of the same essence, because it is not possible for us to love God without loving our neighbor made in His image, and impossible for us to love our neighbor without the enabling love of God.

Discussion idea: How does love relate to each of the 10 commandments? (Exodus 20) Do you find it hardest to love God with your heart, your mind or your soul (your will/choices)? Why?

Prayer focus: Pray for the ability to recognize God’s love, and to respond with love for Him and each other.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Matthew 21

Key Verse: Matthew 21:44
Big Idea: The storyline of Scripture is the tragedy of how we failed to recognize our King, and the love story of how He pursued us anyway.

Matthew 21 is packed full of important information. It begins with the Triumphal Entry of Jesus, and so begins what is commonly called Holy Week - the week in Jerusalem that ended with Jesus in the tomb, the disciples scattered and the enemies of God seemingly triumphant. In future readings we will reflect on some of the other events described in this chapter, but today we are going to pay special attention to the parable in Matthew 21:33-46.

A man built a vineyard, and rented it out to people who would bring him the profits at the end of the season. When the servants went to collect the fruit, the tenants instead beat one, killed one and stoned one, refusing to give the landowner what was his. Incredibly, the master sent another group of servants (more this time) to give them another chance to comply. Although they had rebelled and even killed a servant, they were given another chance. But they chose the same path of rebellion again. Finally, the landowner decided that he would send his own son - at least they would respect him. Instead, they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Jesus had just given them a thumbnail sketch of human history generally, and Israel's in particular. God gave us this world, but instead of giving Him the fruit of it, we horded it for ourselves. He sent prophets and teachers to call people back to Himself, but they rejected Him time and time again. Finally, He sent His own Son to come and call the people to repentance, but for those who rejected His Son there was no further remedy. Every human being who has ever lived has taken God's blessings and used them in rebellion against Him (Romans 3:23), but God has been patient to give us more opportunities to recognize Him. Ultimately, there is one messenger who we either accept or reject, and if we do not choose Him, there are no more messengers of grace, only justice. Jesus is like a stone, which can either be the main cornerstone of the Temple, or a massive crushing boulder.

Discussion Idea: Have you ever done something kind for someone which they did not recognize? How did it make you feel? Why does God continue to reach out to us, even when we reject Him?
Prayer Focus: Pray for an awareness of God's will and rule in our lives today.

PS: I have tried to be diligent to keep these short and direct, but there is something deeper in this passage that I want to point out for the interested. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus had cleansed the Temple of the merchants, bringing its business to a halt. Then, He used a verse about the temple to refer to the people rejecting Himself. Jesus was already indicating that the physical Temple at Jerusalem's time was up and that He was the chief cornerstone of a new Temple - God would no longer dwell in the physical building, but when His people, gathered in His name, assembled together. It is our responsibility to not use that Temple like the moneychangers used the old Temple, for personal profit and pleasure, but to give God the fruit that He deserves. It is a little advanced, and may not be a good fit for your family, but is something to chew on.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Matthew 20

Key Verse: Matthew 20:16

Big Idea: Rewards in God’s Kingdom do not correspond to our expectations.

There is something powerful about a parable: a simple story to illustrate a profound truth grabs our attention when direct attention would often leave our minds wandering. It is no wonder that the Bible records so many of them: thirty seven, or about one-third of Jesus’ total teaching. The knee-jerk response to the parable of Matthew 20:1-16 is probably just as sharp for us today as it was in the first century. If you were doing chores all day, and your sibling threw in a few minutes as your parents pulled into the driveway, you would be incensed to get the same reward as they did. If you worked for your company for a year, and someone else came in to the same position for the holiday rush, but made your same salary, you would probably not be sending the boss a Christmas card. We have certain expectations of fairness, and get angry when those are not met.

But Jesus takes this expectation and turns it on its head. What right do we have  to be angry if someone else is treated generously, when we are treated fairly? Have we lost something because they have succeeded? Of course not, but the resentment remains.

In the spiritual realm, this is especially true. We compare ourselves to others, and want to delude ourselves into thinking that we are more worthy than they are. But God has already treated us more than fairly – He has given us grace when we deserved judgment, and made us part of His family when we had lived as rebels. If someone else comes to faith at the end of their life, can we criticize God for treating them generously, when we have already been loved so greatly? God does not see things the way that we do, and our expectations of cause and effect are all smothered by waves of grace.

Discussion idea: How does God’s salvation and generosity defy our expectations? Would we really want to be treated “fairly” by God?

Prayer focus: Let each family member talk about a time they are tempted to resent God’s way of dealing with people. Pray for God to help us to trust His generosity and faithful love.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Matthew 19

Key Verse: Matthew 19:26
Big Idea: God can demand the impossible, because He does the impossible.
The nineteenth chapter of Matthew is full of demands that seemed overwhelming to Jesus’ first hearers, and will seem overwhelming to us if we hear them clearly. A group came to Jesus asking what reasons would permit a man to divorce his wife? Jesus answered by going back to the original definition of marriage: God turning a man and a woman into one person. Such a union could not be broken casually, only when the other person had broken it already. The disciples, maybe half-joking, said it was better to not get married at all! Jesus told them that God gave some people a special gift of singleness, but that those who chose to marry must stay married no matter how they felt. That kind of demand must have seemed impossible.
Later, a wealthy young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus listed the fourth through the ninth commandments (Ex. 20) and the summary commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Enthusiastically, the rich young ruler claimed that he had done all of these things his whole life and asked what else he needed to do. Jesus said: sell everything he had, give the money to the poor and come follow Jesus. To the rich young ruler this seemed impossible, and he went away sorrowful. 
We know that people are saved by recognizing our sinfulness and trusting Jesus, not by selling all of our stuff. But Jesus used this as way to demonstrate that the rich young ruler had violated the tenth commandment, the one Jesus had not mentioned: Thou shalt not covet. When the man was gone, Jesus told the disciples that it was difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom. The disciples, expecting that someone who was rich and successful must be exceptionally blessed by God, asked how anyone could be saved if a rich person could not. Jesus agreed with them: it is impossible for anyone to be saved! But God is in the impossible business.
No part of the Christian life can be accomplished in our own power, it is simply impossible for a human being to live up to Jesus’ standards. Thankfully, we do not have to do it in human power, but in the power of the God who raises the dead and makes stars with His voice. With Him, the impossible is possible. 
Older kids: Why did Jesus challenge the ruler calling Him good, when He was sinless? Probably for the same reason Jesus told people not to call Him the Christ until He died on the cross. They would use the term, without understanding what it meant.  
Discussion idea: If Jesus asked you to give something up to follow Him, what would seem impossible? How does a better understanding of God help us see that He makes all things possible?
Prayer focus: Pray that we will see things in their proper perspective. Our problems that seem insurmountable or temptations that seem overwhelming are nothing before God’s might and wisdom.

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.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Matthew 11

Key Verse: Matthew 11:6

Big Idea: Jesus was patient with John’s sincere questions, but His ministry proved who He was.
John the Baptist had been arrested for preaching the truth about King Herod’s sinful marriage, and the stillness of jail clearly gave him plenty of time to think. He had identified Jesus as the One who would take away the sins of the world, but the world seemed very much like it always had. A wicked king continued in his sin, while an innocent man sat in chains, ultimately to be executed.

He sent a messenger to ask Jesus “Are you the One?” He was second guessing himself because things were not going the way that he expected. But he ws still ready to take Jesus at His word. Rather than a simple yes or no, Jesus told the messenger to describe His ministry to John: the blind, the lame, the deaf and the lepers were being healed and the poor were receiving the good news. No direct answer was necessary because God’s Kingdom was breaking into the old order, tearing down the things that were wrong. From 2020, we have an even greater evidence: when Jesus died on the cross in our place and rose again the third day, He proved undeniably that He was the one who would reverse the curse of sin once and for all.

Although John struggled with this period of doubt, Jesus praised him as the greatest man who had ever been born of woman. Although the least of those in the Kingdom has a position of greater honor than John, he was given the unique privilege of being a prophet and more than a prophet – a fulfillment of prophecy.

It is a great encouragement for us to remember that although Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes for their refusal to believe, he delt tenderly with John when he wanted to believe, and just needed the reassurance of the Master. At the end of the chapter, Jesus prayed and thanked the Father for not revealing Himself to the elites, but to the humble. What an honor it is for us to be given the chance to receive the message that John preached, and to enter into the Kingdom he foretold.

Discussion Idea: Why did Jesus praise John even when he asked for reassurance? How does this affect the way we should think about our own struggles with faith?

Prayer focus: In Mark 9, a man with a demon-possessed son came to Jesus and prayed: “I believe, help thou my unbelief!” Pray that God would take the mustard seed of our faith, and grow it into a mighty tree for His glory.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Matthew 10

Key Verse: Matthew 10:31
Before beginning any job, it is important to make sure you have the right tools. A chef lines out the ingredients before he begins cooking and an artist makes sure she has the appropriate brushes and colors before starting on her canvas. If we were going to launch a military invasion, we would probably want guns, tanks and airplanes. But what are the tools that we need to carry out Christ’s great commission? In Matthew 10, Jesus tells us.

He told the disciples (Matthew 10:7-11) not to worry about money, special clothing or even extra shoes, but to simply carry their message with them: repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven is arriving. How would they eat and where would they stay? Jesus told them that in each town they went to, they should look for someone to receive them. No reservations, no sense of security – just faith.

Jesus warned that they could be certain of persecution, but that there was no reason to prepare a defense speech in advance. In the very moment of the trial, the Holy Spirit would speak through them (10:18-21). The tools that we need to carry out the job that God has given us are his Spirit and His Word: everything else is an optional accessory.

Older Kids: Jesus predicted that parents and children would turn each other over to be executed for following Jesus. Take a minute to let older kids think about how even if they could not serve Jesus with their own family, He would be all they need. It is certainly easier for them, with you faithfully doing things like prayer and Bible reading with them!

How can we step out on faith, to believe that Jesus is the only tool we need in our hands? Jesus’ analogy is powerful. The tiniest bird does not fall to the ground without God allowing it. If God loves us enough that He knows how many hairs are on our head, won’t He watch over us even more carefully than the sparrows?

Discussion Idea: What are some things we might think we need to follow Jesus’ instructions for us? How can God provide those things for us as we go?
Prayer focus: Pray that we will recognize that God has already given us everything we need, so we can lay our excuses aside and obey Him in faith.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Matthew 9

Key Verse: Matthew 9:6

Big Idea: Jesus performed His miracles to demonstrate His royal authority.

The beginning of Matthew 9 gives us an incredible picture of the authority of Jesus. A paralyzed man was brought to Jesus on a stretcher, desperate for help. Jesus looked at him, but did not heal him right away. Instead, He said “I see your faith – and I forgive your sins.”

Two things stand out about this: Jesus not healing and Jesus forgiving. Jesus not healing shows priority. The heart is much more important than the body. Jesus forgiving shows authority. God is the one who will judge us for our sins, and so only God can take them away.

The Pharisees respond correctly, if Jesus is not God, how can He claim to forgive sins? Jesus then demonstrates that He truly is God, by commanding the man to rise up and be healed. While the prophets of old might have healed, but this was different. When Jesus forgave the man, and then performed a miracle, this was God’s proof that Jesus was truly His Son.
The people marveled, but did not recognize that He is God. Instead, they marvel that God have such power to human beings. Pharisees understand, but do not worship. Only those who are truly Jesus’ disciples will do both - recognize who He is and accept Him.

How do the Pharisees explain away this miracle that they see? We do not find out until the end of the chapter, when they claim that He casts out demons by the power of the Devil. They know He has power, but do not recognize His legitimate authority. They do not recognize the King.

Discussion idea: Do you think there was any miracle Jesus could do which would have persuaded the Pharisees? Why? Can a miracle convince a skeptic today?

Prayer focus: Pray that we will not see God’s blessings for their own sake, but will see them as pointers to God’s heart.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Matthew 8

Key Verse:Matthew 8:3

Big Idea: Jesus was accepted by the unexpected.

Matthew 8 is the story of an invasion force. The rightful King has returned, but He finds his people oppressed and enslaved by the wicked slavemaster Sin and his lackies of Disease, Suffering and Death. People are in rebellion and nature itself is cursed.

The first scene in the chapter is especially vivid. Lepers were people with a horrible skin disease, uncurable in the ancient world, which would cause gaping sores and a loss of sensation, which often led to severe injury. Under the Old Testament law, anyone who touched a leper became ceremonially unclean: quarantined until they could be verified to be cleaned. Like germs on your hands, when someone unclean touched something clean, it contaminated it. This leper knelt before Jesus and asked to be healed, and Jesus touched Him to heal Him. The normal process is perfectly reversed: instead of the uncleanness transferring to Jesus, His cleanness translates to the leper. After years of crippling disease, the first touch He feels is that of Jesus. Disease and suffering retreat and the King’s rightful rule continues to grow.

Jesus healed the servant of a Roman soldier, cast out demons and healed the sick. On  storming sea, His disciples were afraid, but He spoke a Word and the sea responded to its King. A legion (roughly 5000 in Roman military parlance) of demons are expelled by Jesus and allowed to go into a herd of pigs, yet the people are afraid of Him and ask Him to leave.

Older kids: Pigs were unclean animals. Just as Jesus removed the uncleanness from the leper with His own cleanness, the uncleanness of the demons was quarantined in the unclean animals and cast into the sea, removed from the land of the people.
The King has arrived, and is recognized by the unlikeliest people, while those who ought to recognize Him and worship miss Him entirely. There is no one so bad that God cannot forgive them, but no one so good that they do not need to be redeemed. It does not matter who we are or what we’ve done, what matters is what we do with Jesus.

Discussion idea: Why do you think it was harder for the religious elites to to recognize Jesus than for the more obvious sinners?

Prayer focus: Pray for God to help us see people the way that He does, as needing grace, but finding it readily available because of the love of Jesus.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Matthew 7

Key Verse: Matthew 7:24

Big Idea: Following Jesus builds your life upon the solid rock.

Imagine trying to push something heavy while standing in thick mud. The harder you push the deeper you sink, while the object remains unmoved. No matter how much you slip and slide, you will not be able to accomplish anything without a firm footing.

In the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus issues a series of warnings about the hypocritical life. It begins with the vivid word picture of trying to remove a speck from your brother’s eye with a log sticking out of your own, warns about false prophets, who are like wolves in sheep costumes, and describes how a rotten tree will ultimately be revealed by its fruit.

If we try to do good things without a relationship with Jesus, we are like a person standing in the mud or a rotten tree with fruit taped on it.When there are no roots, there will be no significance. So Jesus tells a story about a man who builds his house on a rock. The rain and wind come and beat on the house, but all of its significance stands because the foundation holds. A house built without a foundation collapses catastrophically.

If we trust Jesus as our Savior and follow Him, everything else in our life is given strength by the solid foundation. Those roots, deep in the heart, give everything else a firm footing. Without that foundation laid first, everything else is nothing but smoke, disappearing as quickly as it comes.

Discussion idea
: How can we stand on the solid rock when the storms of life are raging?

Prayer focus
: Pray for God to help us prioritize the foundation, and build our life on Him.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Matthew 6

Key Verse: Matthew 6:1

Big Idea: The rewards of following Jesus are seen by faith.

When little babies play peek-a-boo, their brains do not understand that you still exist, even when they cannot see you. They get anxious when they are alone and are surprised and delighted when you remove a teddy bear that was blocking your face. Even though we grow out of this exteme form, we spend our whole lives tied to what we can see.

Sometimes, people do something kind (like give money to the poor), only so they can tell other people about it. They want the likes and the retweets as a kind of instant reward for their good behavior. Jesus told His disciples that if this is the reward they want, it is the only reward they will have; they should not expect God to reward them for those corrupt motivations. They  have their reward already.

Older kids: Point out Matthew 6:19-20. What is the long term fate of their most prized possessions on earth?

Jesus invites His disciples to spend their lives on something they cannot see, laying up for themselves treasures in Heaven, instead of on Earth. If we are going to follow Jesus, we will need a motivation that only faith can provide. He is good and true, even when we cannot trace out how He is accomplishing His will.

Discussion idea: Imagine the disciples talking the morning after Jesus died. They gave up and thought all was lost, because they could not see with the eyes of faith. How can we practice seeing with faith, and what keeps us from doing so?

Prayer focus: Pray for God to open our eyes to the reality that the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are unseen are forever.