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 joshuaproject.net 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: https://www.facebook.com/chase.reynolds.969/videos/10221559355120123/