Matthew 26-28 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He understands our guilt and pain

After observing the exploits of four mischievous older brothers while growing up, I was decidedly a compliant child and teenager.  I mean, how much can parents take?  My obedience wasn’t due so much to any goodness on my part, but more so out of compassion for my mom.  Somebody needed to give her a break!  However, I remember a time as a young teen when I blatantly disobeyed her.

It wasn’t an unpardonable sin kind of thing, but in that day and in our church, it was considered wrong. Today? Not so much.  I will never forget the torment of guilt that plagued me as I sat in disobedience, nothing was right with the world, I was somehow stained, and God seemed completely out of reach.  The feeling of guilt over something we have done wrong is a powerful emotion.  In light of this, I can’t imagine bearing someone else’s guilt of sin for them.  I just wouldn’t want to do it. 

@ Matthew 26
“My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (39)  Do I really understand this prayer? Jesus knew the physical pain He would experience.  He knew the emotional pain He would feel as He bore the sins of the world.  He knew the spiritual pain of separation from His Father that He would endure.  Yes, I have known physical, emotional and spiritual pain, but I have never known them as the sinless Son of God.  “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

If sinful me would run from this cup, I can only imagine the dread felt by our spotless Lord to take on the guilt of the entire world, for us. If it is possible…but, no, it wasn’t possible.  Our redemption would require a spotless Lamb, the only One of its kind, “He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

I can’t think of a more desperate moment for anyone who has ever walked this earth than the time that Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, The Olive Press, and the place where He felt the press of agonizing pain before His crucifixion.  Rejected by those He came to redeem, betrayed by one of His own, knowing He would be denied by all who followed Him and now the Cross, He prayed, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we have been rejected by those we have tried to serve, betrayed by those we trusted or denied and abandoned by those we have loved – friends, companions, children, parishioners.  We pray for the pain of this cup of suffering to pass, and because of Gethsemane, we know He understands.  “He prayed more fervently, and He was in such agony of spirit that His sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” (Luke 22:44)  He understands our pain, and unlike His disciples, He will keep watch with us.

Perhaps we know individuals who are walking this difficult path right now.  Will we keep watch with them and pray with them in their hour of Gethsemane?  I regret the times when a busy day keeps me from watching over others like I want to, but at the very least I will pray for them, along with Jesus who “lives forever to intercede with God on our behalf.” (Hebrew 7:25)  No one, absolutely no one, understands like Jesus. 

Moving Forward: Reminded of an old song today, “No one understands like Jesus when the days are dark and grim. No one is so near, so dear as Jesus. Cast your every care on Him.” (J.W. Peterson) 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 5-6

Matthew 23-25 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He’s returning for those who are looking for Him

I remember an expression from the 1970’s that appropriately fits our reading today – “That’s heavy, man, heavy,” an evaluation not referring to the weight of something in pounds, but to the weight of its importance and impact.  In these chapters, Jesus gave weighty information about how He viewed carnal religious leaders, the end times and who would spend eternity with Him.  We don’t have to rely on man’s interpretation or inspiration on these subjects, but we can hear it straight from the Creator’s mouth.

“And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” (24:30-31) Jesus gave a glorious description of His unannounced return for those who accept Him as their Savior, and then shared a series of parables, or examples, to explain just exactly who should expect Him.

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.” (24:37-39) If we truly believe that He is the son of God, there is evidence of it in our lives; and according to His parables, we exhibit this evidence:

  • We are watching for Him. “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming…You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (24:42,44)
  • We are ready for Him – all oiled up and ready to go! “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil.” (25:1-4)
  • We are faithful in the use of our God-given gifts and talents. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!…To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.” (25:23,29)
  • We display the compassionate heart of the Father. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” (25:34-36) 

Watching, ready, faithful, compassionate.  I’m challenged today by how the Lord views our readiness to meet Him when He returns. These are weighty matters for consideration. 

Moving forward:  I pray He recognizes me as one of His very own by all that I do and say today. 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 3-4

Matthew 20-22 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is mercy and grace

My first real job out of high school was working in the stenographer’s pool at a large bank while I attended college.  Different departments throughout the bank called the steno pool when they needed someone to take dictation, do filing, answer phones, etc.  The goal of everyone in the pool was to eventually find a permanent position somewhere in the bank.

One employee who had worked there for a long time was a source of irritation for most of us as we waited for our escape because of her poor work ethic.  On occasion, I thought how great it would be to file my nails, make personal phone calls or in my case do homework while on company time.  It seemed unfair that she was paid for 40 hours each week like the rest of us, but for some reason a measure of grace and mercy was given to her. This was bothersome to us because, in the natural, we don’t want grace for others as much as we want justice!  Thankfully, we’re not God. 

@Matthew 20
In Matthew 20, Jesus shared a parable about grace and mercy, “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.” (1-2)  Normal pay for a normal day sounds reasonable.  Throughout the day the landowner added workers, even up to the final hour of the workday, and a conflict arose when their pay was divvied out.

“When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’” (10-12)  I feel their pain. I’ve heard these simple definitions of mercy and grace:  Mercy is not receiving what we do deserve; grace is receiving what we don’t deserve.  Matthew 20:1-16 is all over this.

In the same way, it may seem unfair that someone with a death-bed conversion to Christ who lived a pleasure-filled godless life will spend eternity in Heaven with God and with all those who lived submitted and obedient lives to Him. But it is really unfair?  Would any of us be so bold as to say we deserve eternity in Heaven because of our righteousness?  That any of us will spend eternity with the Lord is only because a righteous God spared us from what we deserved and gave us what we didn’t deserve through our acceptance of Jesus Christ – plain and simple.

As far as my co-worker from so long ago, one day I realized that she had missed the point.  She was still in the steno pool long after the rest of us had moved on to a better position in the bank.  Mercy kept her employed and grace kept her paycheck coming, but she missed out on all that she could have achieved and enjoyed along the way.

Those who come late in life to the Lord miss out on the abundant life He offers here on earth, and even more so, they miss out on the pleasure that comes from a lifetime of pursuing His purpose for them.  God is merciful, but waiting to come to Him does not secure the abundant life on earth He has offered us.

I am ever mindful that God has given each of us assignments to accomplish while we tread this sod, but our purpose, both on earth and in Heaven, is something much different.  He has given us life, our very next breath, for the purpose of fellowship and intimacy with Him. Obedience and self-denial may be our path to Him, but anything we surrender is insignificant compared to the pure pleasure of His company! 

Moving Forward:  I approach this day with a greater understanding and thankfulness for His mercy and grace on my life.  Before I accomplish the myriad of things I must do today, I first will pursue the pleasure of His company.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 1-2

Matthew 17-19 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He provides a way for us to reconcile with others

Counselors, therapists, mediators and coaches spend a great deal of time helping clients resolve conflicts in their lives, and they accomplish a lot of good and help people move past difficult situations.  It’s not surprising, however, that the Bible offers some guidelines for believers within the church who find themselves at odds with someone.

For those individuals who have never experienced conflict with anyone, I suppose this devotional may be irrelevant.  Still, just in case a conflict should someday pop up, it could never hurt to be aware of the plan Jesus offered to resolve conflicts. 

@ Matthew 18
It’s troubling that God’s straightforward set of guidelines for conflict resolution is so seldom followed.  Maybe because it’s so clear-cut, we feel it just isn’t profound enough to help, or perhaps we’re just too cowardly to try it.  I’m not sure. “If another believer sins against you,” this is what we should do…according to Jesus:

  • “Go privately and point out the offense.  If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.  But if you are unsuccessful,
  • Take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.  If the person still refuses to listen,
  • Take your case to the church.  Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” (18:15-17)  Now that would be a memorable Sunday service.  And to be considered a tax collector – the ultimate disgrace!

If we find ourselves in conflict with someone, common sense should prevail.  If I am upset because someone says something insensitive to me, fails to compliment a new hairstyle or ignores me, etc, it’s probably time for a little dying to self on my part. In Matthew 18, Jesus was talking about “if another believer sins against you,” follow these guidelines.

If we fail to follow the Lord’s instructions, we often end up sinning ourselves with an unforgiving heart or by gossiping and causing division.  There will always, absolutely always, be someone close at hand who is willing to listen if I choose to gossip instead of following His guidelines. In our conflicts, God will provide all the grace we need to resolve them, but there may not be grace for those uninvolved individuals that we choose to include through gossip.  They, in turn, pick up our offense without grace, and it always turns out badly.  Sometimes rather than follow His guidelines, we may feel it’s just easier to keep our hurt, keep it to ourselves, let it fester and grow into bitterness.  Ugh!

When we follow the Lord’s plan to resolve conflict, we find ourselves back in unity, in agreement.  I love that Jesus followed these guidelines with a promise of help in matters of conflict and discipline, and I believe, for prayer in general as well, “If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.  For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (18:19-20) Who doesn’t want that!

Moving Forward: Imprint these guidelines on my heart, Lord, that I might not sin against you. Help me live in such a way that no one has the need to approach me regarding sins I have committed against another.  With His help, all things are possible. 

Tomorrow @Romans 15-16

Matthew 14-16 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He responds to a courageous heart of faith

I’ve had some great friends in my life.  In fact, I had a friend that came and cleaned my kitchen floor for 14 years.  No matter what was dropped or spilled while cooking or eating, the mess was cleaned up by this faithful friend for all those years.  When my friend passed away several years ago, I grieved for quite some time; and even today, I miss that extra help in the kitchen.  Yes, Toby, my Miniature Schnauzer was a great friend and a good little floor cleaner.  He never missed a crumb!  I have to admit that sometimes I intentionally dropped a scrap or two just because I loved him.  It’s hard to believe, but Jesus had a discussion with a woman about this very thing! 

@ Matthew 15
“Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!  For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.’” (21-22)  Right from the beginning of this story, I liked this woman.  First of all, she was a mother on a mission to save her daughter.  I understand the heart of a mother whose child is sick.  We will do just about anything to save our children.  She had a mother’s heart.  Secondly, I admire her courage.  It was courageous for a woman, a Gentile woman nonetheless, to approach a Jewish man she did not know to ask a favor.  She was brave.

The woman was a Canaanite whose ancestors had been the bane of Israel’s existence, but she had obviously heard about the miracles of Jesus, disregarded her heritage and came to Jesus.  When Jesus informed this dear woman that He was sent only to help the Jews, she was undaunted by His response, “But she came and worshiped Him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’”(25)  She was tenacious.

Strangely, Jesus again resisted her, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” (26)  Jesus was reiterating the mindset of a majority of the Jews of His day.  They knew themselves to be children of God, and all others, well….were not.  However, Jesus, in His only trip outside of Palestine, was about to prove that His message was for everyone, and this courageous, tenacious mother was assisting Him whether she knew it or not.

The woman replied to Jesus, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.” (27)  What a clever response!  Evidently, she had a Toby or two in her life, canine friends who were only too happy to take whatever would come their way in order to satisfy their needs.  And this woman was not too proud to receive whatever the Lord would do for her, scraps and all.  She was humble.

“Dear woman,’ Jesus said to her, ‘your faith is great. Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was instantly healed.” (28)  No doubt through the faith of this woman, news spread throughout this Gentile region about Jesus, the healer of Jew and Gentile alike.  She had great faith.

It’s easy to allow hindrances to keep us from receiving the miracles that God has for us.  Are we willing to walk down the aisle at church for prayer, admitting we have a need?  Are we brave?  Will we ask again and again from the Lord until we receive?  Are we tenacious?  Will we humble ourselves and receive whatever the Lord has for us, however He chooses to give it?  Are we humble?  Will we believe that God is able to do anything we ask?  Have we great faith?  Apparently, these are things that grab the heart of God and cause Him to grant our requests. 

Moving Forward:  I believe the Lord has set a banquet for me today; but even if He offered only a scrap, only a crumb, it would be just what I needed for my miracle. 

Tomorrow @ Romans 13-14

Matthew 11-13 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: His yoke is easy and His burden is light

I fondly remember the first time I walked into a bakery in Paris and viewed the vast array of French pastries. Be still my heart!  As I walked back and forth in front of the pastries, I saw chocolaty éclairs, buttery croissants, eggy sweet brioche, nutty tarts and many other delectable sweets.  Choosing just one was painful, but for the sake of my well-being, it was necessary to decide on just one.

That’s how I felt today reading Matthew because it holds so many great truths from the words of Jesus Himself.  How do I choose to share about just one?  Fortunately, many of the His truths from our reading today are woven together into one great thought.  By the way, at the bakery, I chose the Chocolate Almond Croissant with that gooey creamy filling – a little bit of everything together in one great pastry! 

@ Matthew 11
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”(28-30)  These verses spoken by Jesus and found only in Matthew are some of the most comforting words in the Bible to me.  The burdens of this life can be difficult to carry, but Jesus offers a remedy for us.

There is a yoke of responsibility that comes with living on this earth and living for God, and those who attempt to live a yoke-free life often shirk their responsibilities and live only for themselves.  One might think that those already bearing a heavy burden certainly don’t need the burden of yet another yoke, but Jesus was saying try my yoke instead, trade your yoke of heaviness.  A yoke is simply the framework used to carry a load, and a proper yoke is an easy yoke, one that balances the load and makes the task much easier. This is the yoke that Jesus offers us.

In the following chapter, Jesus went on to give examples of the yokes that burden us and make us weary.  The man-made laws of the Pharisees did not allow the disciples to pick wheat for lunch nor did they allow Jesus to heal a man on the Sabbath.  Those with a religious spirit are always more concerned about legalistic rituals than they are about man’s needs and they have little desire for the supernatural work of God.  Jesus said, “You would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’”(7)  His yoke is easy and full of mercy.

The parables of Jesus that followed were examples of what He meant by, “Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  For all those who would take the yoke of Jesus and learn from Him, they would be good soil and reap a great harvest. (13:23)  The parables of mustard seed faith, planting good seeds, hidden treasures, the pearl of great worth and all His teachings are words that will bring understanding to our hearts and lighten the load we carry.

The difference between the yokes of this world with their heavy burdens and the yoke that Jesus offers to us is that it is balanced by His merciful love.  Yes, without a doubt, to follow Him we must keep His commandments, but in the keeping of them, He gently guides us along in the process.  So Jesus says to us today, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens,” cast away the yokes of man’s rituals and expectations and the taunts from the enemy, throw away the yokes that make you heavy and downhearted, take my yokeand be light and easy.  Jesus has made us an offer we really can’t refuse. 

Moving Forward:  I won’t wear the yoke of heavy burdens today because I’ve chosen to wear His yoke, and I feel as light as a feather. 

Tomorrow @ Romans 11-12

Matthew 8-10 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He is the healer!

Nothing stirs up faith in me like reading Matthew, Chapters 8 through 10. I think of them as the Miracle Chapters.  Matthew shared one example after another of the miraculous healing and delivering power of our Lord.  I’ve heard it said several times that if we don’t have faith to believe for healing or for a miracle, we won’t be healed, and that it’s all about our faith. I’m just not sure that Jesus would completely agree with that statement.

Matthew’s examples include the story of healing for a man with Great Faith – “A Roman officer came and pleaded with [Jesus], ‘Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.’ Jesus said, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the officer said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed’…[Jesus} said, ‘I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!’”(8:8-10) The Gentile Roman soldier was a man of Great Faith.

Matthew included illustrations of Faith that brought healing:  “A woman who had suffered for twelve years…touched the fringe of his robe…when he saw her he said, ‘Daughter, be encouraged!  Your faith has made you well.’ And the woman was healed at that moment.” (9:20-22)  Then Matthew told the story of the two blind men who shouted to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on us!’…Jesus asked them, ‘Do you believe I can make you see?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ they told him, ‘we do.’  Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘Because of your faith, it will happen.’” (27-29)  Without a doubt, we know how Jesus felt about faith and healing.

But then, Jesus also performed a miracle for those with Little Faith: When in the storm-tossed sea, the disciples cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ Jesus responded, ‘Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.” (8:25-26)

Jesus saved and healed a man with Borrowed Faith:  “Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven’…And the man jumped up and went home!” (9:2,7)  One time I was in a desperate need of healing for body, soul and spirit, and I seemed to have no faith to believe for a miracle.  My husband and two others, all full of faith, touched God on my behalf, and I was made completely whole.  Borrowed faith.

Jesus even performed a miracle for a man with No Faith: “A demon-possessed man who couldn’t speak was brought to Jesus. So Jesus cast out the demon, and then the man began to speak. The crowds were amazed.”  Full of the devil, this man was set free by Jesus who performs His miracles for reasons we may not even understand – the crowds were amazed.

These illustrations are not intended to minimize our need for faith to believe for miracles, quite the opposite, but I believe we put God in a box when we say that someone is not healed because of their lack of faith. We just don’t know all the purposes God has for the trials we face, but we do know we must stay connected to the One who does.

I believe that Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord that Heals, that Jesus, the Great Physician, will perform miracles on our behalf.  As we learned from the Roman soldier, our faith blesses the Lord, and who doesn’t want to bless the Lord?  From the other healings mentioned in these chapters, we know that faith gets the Lord’s attention.  Who doesn’t want the Lord’s attention?  Our faith brings healing.  Who doesn’t want healing?  Bottom Line: Jesus is the healer. Whether we believe or not, Jesus is the healer.  It’s all about Him.

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful that His miracles are not exclusive to my measure of faith, but I’m equally thankful that He responds to my faith with healing and blessing. 

Tomorrow @ Romans 9-10

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