How many times have you done something bad? Said something bad? Thought something bad? How do those numbers stack up against how frequently you’ve done/said/thought something good?
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.Galatians 5:19-26, ESV
We would probably all like to think that our good outnumbers our bad by a lot. Or maybe some of us ignore the stats, focusing instead on the fact that we are saved by grace alone and not by our good works. We’re not trying to get enough “good points” to please God or to earn our status as Christians, but we can’t ignore our calling to reject the works of the flesh and strive toward the fruit of the Spirit. Just as Paul encouraged the Galatians to do, we who live by the Spirit should keep in step with the Spirit.
We have reached the end of Matthew, which, on Good Friday, seems like it should come with a spoiler alert: Jesus comes back to life! In just twenty verses, we read about the resurrection of Jesus, the responses of some key people, and the Great Commission. There are many things in this chapter worthy of our focus, but I would like to point out two crucial things.
6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.Matthew 28:6, ESV
Jesus did it. He actually did it. Three days after dying on a cross, he rose from the dead, and his tomb was found empty. He defeated death, and he is alive today.
17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.Matthew 28:17, ESV
As we go through this weekend, where do you have doubts? Major holidays can feel like a chore or like going through the motions sometimes. Maybe you doubt Easter’s value. You know the story – death, burial, resurrection – but is it true? Is it just a story? Maybe you doubt that it even happened. Doubt is normal; we see that even some of Jesus’ followers doubted his return despite seeing him in the flesh. Turn to God. Even if you are without doubt today, God can renew your belief and excitement in the true meaning of Easter. Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again – by this we are saved.
Have you ever played the 20 Questions game? I had a handheld electronic version when I was a kid. One person thinks of something, anything, and another person asks up to twenty questions about that thing in an attempt to guess what it is. My electronic 20Q was always able to figure it out – to this day I’m still baffled by that.
In Matthew 22, we see Jesus answering a lot of questions from the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They test his knowledge of the Scriptures throughout this passage, waiting for him to slip up. But what happens? They marvel at his teaching. They are astonished. He always has the right answer. Better yet, he flips the script on them.
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.Matthew 22:41-46, ESV
Jesus has the answers. Jesus is the answer. Fully human, son of David; fully God, Lord of all. He knows his stuff. He created the stuff. Today, let’s spend time in reverence of our all-knowing Savior.
I remember a piece of my mother’s jewelry catching my eye one day when I a kid. It was a necklace. I honestly don’t remember much about it (I had to confirm with her that it actually existed before drafting this devotional), but I do remember that in the middle of the pendant, slightly magnified by a glass cover, was a seed.
18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”Matthew 17:18-20, ESV
As some of you may have guessed, the seed in my mother’s necklace was a mustard seed, a reminder of the words ofJesus in Matthew 17:20 and a symbol of her faith in Christ. It was unfortunately stolen several years later, but they didn’t steal her faith!
Mustard seeds are very small. To have faith like that would be barely quantifiable. However, Jesus says in this passage from Matthew 17 that it would be enough to move mountains. How? The power of Christ knows no limits. When our faith is Christ-centered, as we heard in Sunday’s sermon, and when our faith and our hope is in Jesus, anything is possible through Him.
Today, your faith may be like a mustard seed – that’s okay. Is it centered on Christ?
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.Matthew 12:38-40, ESV
Foreshadowing is a narrative device that is used to give the reader a hint of what is to come. In most cases, foreshadowing is what gives us that “I should have known that was going to happen” response. In contrast, a callback is when a current event or statement directly references an event or statement from the past. Usually it happens unexpectedly and evokes the “oh yeah I remember that happening” response.
In Matthew 12 we read that Jesus refuses to perform a miraculous sign for the Pharisees, instead saying that the only sign given would be the sign of the prophet Jonah. Through this response we see foreshadowing in the form of a callback. Just as Jonah spent three days in the belly of a big fish, Jesus would go on to spend three days in a tomb. When Jonah got out, the Ninevites were saved. When Jesus got out, everyone was saved.
Our God is not confined to our construct of time or to the devices of narrative, but how amazing it is to see His continuous work in the past, present, and future.
I had COVID-19 in November of 2020.
Luckily, I made it through the illness with very mild symptoms that dissipated quickly. Before I knew it, I was healthy once more and able to get back to my daily life. For many, though, the same illness is much more serious. In those cases, it is necessary to seek treatment from those who can help.
In Matthew 8, we read about Jesus healing many.
16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”Matthew 8:16-17, ESV
In these verses and the surrounding text, Jesus heals in different and sometimes unexpected ways. In each case, the person being healed is beyond the type of illness that, like my stint of COVID, will get better by staying home and eating grilled cheese sandwiches. It is necessary for them to seek healing from the One who can help. Through healing, Jesus shows His sovereignty and grace.
Jesus took our illnesses and bore our diseases. More than that, He took our sin and bore the punishment we deserved. Through Jesus we have the one and only effective treatment for our brokenness. Do you need healing today?
I am a sucker for fast food breakfast. Or restaurant breakfast. Or homemade breakfast. Really just all breakfasts. Anything with gravy, honestly. On the occasional Sunday (more frequently than I would care to admit) I have been pulled into the fast food drive-through by the temptation of a delicious breakfast sandwich. Add a hash brown and iced coffee into the mix, and I dare anyone to try to keep me away.
In Matthew 4, we see Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Jesus fasts for forty days and forty nights, and the devil makes his appearance to test Jesus in three different scenarios, the first being a suggestion that Jesus could easily turn stones into bread to eat.
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”Matthew 4:3-4, ESV
Jesus is able to reject the temptation of food after a forty-day fast, instead staying focused on God’s Word and on His greater purpose. The rest of this passage goes on to describe two more ways the devil tempts Jesus, both met with similar responses.
What is your temptation? Is it pulling you away from God? He might not ask us to go forty days in the wilderness without food or even to resist the call of a tasty breakfast, but we should seek to reject anything that pulls our focus away. When we are tempted by sin, we can stay strong by staying focused on God, His word, and His greater purpose.
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:31-35
When Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was about to happen on the cross, he gave them a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. This commandment was and is intended to be the identifying characteristic for those who follow Jesus, and it didn’t fizzle out or lose power over time. As Christians, we are still called to show the love of Christ; it is supposed to be what sets us apart.
Are we loving one another the way that we are supposed to? We tend to love conditionally, favoring those we like or agree with. It’s hard to love those who have wronged us. It’s easy to forget that we’re supposed to show love when we’re caught up in an argument or when issues divide us. I encourage you today to reflect on the way that you love others. At the start of new year, maybe it’s time to realign with this new commandment to love one another just as Jesus has loved us.
It’s Christmas Day.
I don’t want to keep you long – you likely have tasks at hand more pressing than reading this devotional. For a moment, though, let’s talk about Christmas and how it connects to God’s unbroken story.
Matthew 1 is where we begin the New Testament.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.Matthew 1:1
For the past few months we have been working our way through the Old Testament, seeing time and time again how God has worked justly and lovingly to save His people from their sin for His glory. Now, as we begin the New Testament (and bring our Unbroken series to a close), it may almost seem like the end of the story. Instead, let us consider it a continuation. After the many displays of His loving nature in the Old Testament, the same God that created the universe came down to be with His creation in the form of a baby.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.Matthew 1:18-25
Jesus Christ was and is God’s ultimate act of love. He came to live a perfect, sinless life on earth and ultimately pay the price of death on a cross to cover the sin of all of humanity, a gift of love that is for all. Let us celebrate today the birth of the One who saves us, Jesus Christ.
Daniel and the Lions’ Den is one of the most well-known bible stories, hands down. Even if you haven’t taken a deep dive into the text of Daniel 6, you have most likely heard the story before. Because he continued to pray openly to God after the ordinance by King Darius, Daniel was thrown into a den of lions. However, Daniel was not harmed by the lions because God sent His angel to shut the lions’ mouths. After he saw this, Darius sent out a decree to all nations that the God of Daniel was the real deal. End of story, case closed, on to the next chapter?
It is easy to breeze past the stories we learned in Sunday school. Because they are so familiar, we sometimes overlook passages like Daniel 6. I encourage you to take another read through this chapter; there’s a little more to the story than what I included in my short summary. Daniel and the Lions’ Den is a great story, but it’s also truly incredible to think about that fact that this display of God’s power actually happened. The God that saved Daniel from death in the lions’ den is the same God that saved us from the death we deserve for our sin.
What are you overlooking? Have parts of God’s word started to seem like old news for you? Let’s take time today to reflect and pray on that.
Our sermon last Sunday was on Daniel 6 and focused on how God works through opposition. Watch it again at vcbc.org.