Acts 23

Vs. 1, “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”  Paul knew the Sanhedrin were unjustly accusing him, so with indignance claimed his innocence (vs. 1-5).  This incensed the Ananias the high priest so much that he ordered to have Paul struck on the face.  Paul’s boldly responded, but did not realize who Ananias was.  This could easily be explained due to an informal meeting, the high priest may not have had his priestly garments on.  Or Paul was sarcastically responding to the Ananias.  Paul shrewdly shared his belief in his faith while bringing a sharp dispute between the Pharisee’s and Sadducees (vs. 6-10).  The following morning, some of Paul’s enemies had formed a conspiracy to have Paul assassinated (vs. 12-22).  But Paul’s nephew had overheard the plot and forewarned Paul.  Paul knew that the only protection he had was to utilize his Roman citizenship.  The commander in Jerusalem would have Paul transferred to Caesarea where the governor of Judea (Felix) resided.  This would also protect Paul from the dangers in Jerusalem.

Regarding application…Needed Reassurance.  Vs. 11, “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”  Everyone needs reassurance.  No matter how godly a person may be; everyone needs that extra encouragement.  This would be the reassurance Paul would need to persevere; especially since the next morning he would hear a plot of 40 men proclaiming they will not eat again until Paul dies (vs. 12-13).  I think that’s part of the reason that we gravitate towards sports.  We see how important it is to be reassured and encouraged by other teammates and the audience.  That’s why the home team will often have a better record.  The Lord directly spoke to Paul, and He still speaks to us through His living Word.  That’s why we do spend time in reading and prayer.  But, not only does God reassure us, take time to reassure another this week.

Paul to Caesarea

Luke 16

Vs. 13, “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”  Luke now directs his attention in this chapter to Jesus’ teaching on the issue of money.  The Parable of the Shrewd Manager (vs. 1-15) is a difficult one to understand.  Jesus had just finished contrasting the prodigal son who wasted his wealth to the frugal son who saved his wealth (Luke 15).  Now, we see Jesus share a parable how to responsibly use money.  There are two main ways; the manager was dishonest, but shrewd or the manager was previously dishonest and now is cutting his own commission.  As believers, we are to use wealth (vs. 9) for the growing of His kingdom (tithe, offerings, etc.)  In the end, we must make a definitive choice to put God first over money (easier said than done).  Because the Pharisees were listening in, Jesus directs the next few comments directly to them (vs. 14-18) before sharing another example of the danger of money (vs. 19-31).  I say example with Lazarus and the rich man because nowhere are we explicitly told this is a parable.  This is a striking story of what happens when we make riches and the love of money our God.

Regarding application…Unbelief to Faith.  Vs. 31, “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  No amount of evidence or miracles will ever turn an unbelieving heart to faith. Such a leap from the chasm of death to life can only be done by a leap of faith.  The rich man still foolishly thought that if someone would rise from the dead, this would turn his five brothers to faith.  Brothers and sisters, while taking the time to show the archeological proof of Jesus is beneficial, that will not turn a person to faith.  As great as apologetics can be to help defend the faith, again this will not turn a person to faith.  Our part is to pray and love people with the Jesus’ love.

Luke 11

Vs. 1, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  What an encouraging sign to see the disciples wanting to grow!  Jesus uses this request to teach them about prayer (vs. 1-13).  If we give to a neighbor in need or a child who is hungry, how much more will God the Father give to us?  We begin to see more tension rising up against Jesus from the Pharisees and teachers of the law as the rest of our chapter unfolds.  After exorcising a demon from a mute man, Jesus is accused of being Beelzebub (name for Satan).  However, Jesus aptly points out that He fixes what Satan tries to destroy.  The vivid example of a demon who returns with seven more (vs. 24-26) is a stark reminder of how important a response is when God intervenes in our life.  As the crowds increase, Jesus rebukes the crowd for their lack of repentance and juxtaposes them with the Queen of the South (Sheba) and the Ninevites who responded better to Solomon and Jonah (vs. 29-32).  Jesus teaches us that lamp of our life is through our eyes (vs. 33-36), so we must be careful what we allow into our lives.  And lastly, Jesus pulls no punches when it came to chastising the legalistic Pharisees and teachers of the law (vs. 37-54).  Jesus’ rebuke addresses legalism, pride, and hypocrisy that had infiltrated their hearts.

Regarding application…What Are You Looking At?  Vs. 34, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness.”  There is the saying, “You are what you eat.”  Likewise, what we look at and focus on is going to affect the way we live this life.  If we are looking at beauty, accomplishments, and money this will often steer us the wrong way.  When I was 16 years old, I was more than happy to drive an old junky car.  But as the years progressed, I began looking at what everyone else was driving.  Eventually, I bought a brand new Mazda 3 and loved driving that car.  But after a year, I sold it.  I realized that having a brand new fancy car (at least for me) wasn’t what it was all cracked up to be.  A car may be a trivial thing, but there are certainly things we tend to focus on that can adversely affect our lives.  Take time today to consider what you are looking at and turn your gaze to what God is looking at!

Matthew 23

Vs. 13a, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!”  As the time is looming with just a few days left before Good Friday and the cross, Jesus takes time to denounce the hypocritical Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Question: Why do so?  It was important for Jesus’ followers not to revere these leaders.  It was also important that they receive judgment for their actions.  While they did adhere to the good parts of the law, their oral traditions made a mockery of God’s intentions.  Jesus still wanted the people to follow their leadership (vs. 3) as long as it did not go against God’s word.  Jesus proceeds to pronounce seven woes of accusation and judgment (vs. 13-36).  The first woe (vs. 13) is a judgment for leading the people astray.  The second woe (vs. 15) is accusing them for their efforts to make false converts of their own pride and leading them away from Jesus.  The third woe (vs. 16-22) deals with how the Pharisee’s developed a complicated system of their own oaths and vows that were dishonorable to God.  The fourth woe (vs. 23-24) accuses them of focusing so much on tithing even small things that they forget to serve the people in other ways.  The fifth woe (vs. 25-26) is an accusation of pride as they focused on the appearance rather than the heart.  The sixth woe (vs. 27-28) builds on the fifth woe in that they were more worried about how they looked, but inside they were unclean.  The seventh woe (vs. 29-32) reveals their boasting that they would not have killed God’s prophets from the past, yet they were conspiring to kill God’s son.  And lastly, we see Jesus lament over Jerusalem (vs. 37-39) as He knows of the soon destruction when the Romans would invade in 70 A.D.

Regarding application…Ugliness of Pride.  Vs. 7, “They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’” Sadly, we as humans struggle with this.  I believe especially “honor & shame” cultures are more susceptible to this way of thinking.  Korea is just one of the many “honor & shame” cultures.  Certainly, serving in a Korean culture yet being raised in an American culture, I see the dynamics of this phenomenon.  I’ll quickly point out that we can glean good and bad things from both types of cultures.  For example, Korean churches have a tendency to emphasize their titles (deacon, elder, etc.)  While I understand their emphasis to respect each other, this can be a slippery slope.  Pride can set in and we begin to feel like we are entitled to the praises of men.  Certainly, corporate America can look very similar too.   Let us remember that we are to be servants and consider others above ourselves!

Matthew 16

Vs. 1, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.”  Though the Pharisees and Sadducees did not often get along, they would join together for the purpose of being threatened by Jesus and His followers (vs. 1-4).  They challenged Jesus to show them a sign, but signs never saved a person.  Jesus was the Son of God in flesh and they still did not believe.  The next section about comparing the religious leaders to yeast is almost comical (vs. 5-12).  The disciples keep thinking Jesus is speaking literally about bread.  It’s a good lesson for us to understand the context of the Bible less we interpret incorrectly.  When Jesus and the disciples come to the region of Caesarea Philippi (a place known for many pagan worship), Jesus uses this background to ask them a very important question (vs. 13-16).  Peter eloquently declares the identity of Jesus being the Christ (Anointed One) and the Son of the Living God (vs. 16).  It is here that Jesus uses the opportunity to exhort Peter as the leader to help build the church (vs. 17-20).  It is Jesus who is the foundation of the church and Peter is used to help build it.  And lastly, the road to the cross has commenced as Jesus’ Galilean ministry comes to a close (vs. 21-28).  While Jesus predicts His death, the disciples do not understand.  Peter allows his emotions to get the best of him as he rudely tries to speak against Jesus (vs. 22).  Jesus declares Peter does not have the mind of God and therefore rebukes Satan (vs. 23).  We are either for God or against God.

Regarding application…Carrying the Cross.  Vs. 24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Certainly, the meaning of the cross back in Jesus’ time was not a comforting thought.  The cross represented one of the cruelest means of capital punishment.  Question: What are you holding on to?  If we hold on to our own lives, we will lose it.  It is a paradox.  Question: How can we lose our life if we try to save it (vs. 25)?  Yet, the way to save our life is to carry the cross.  Brothers and sisters, Jesus set the example for us.  His death gives us life.  Our spiritual death from sin gives us eternal life!  I believe I’m slowly learning the burdens of walking with Jesus more and more.  The suffering of carrying the cross today is nothing compared to the joys of eternal life with our Savior!

Matthew 5

Vs. 1, “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him.”  Indeed, this is the famous Sermon on the Mount message Jesus teaches (Matthew 5-7).  Remember that the target audience Matthew’s Gospel are the Jews.  The Sermon on the Mount addresses Jesus’ expounding upon the law.  Question: Why?  Because as wonderful as the law was, it cannot save us.  True righteousness starts from the heart because no one can meet the high standard that Jesus is laying out.  We must not read this literally, are none of us would be walking around with eyes or hands (vs. 27-30).  There are differing interpretations of the intention and application of Jesus’ ideal teaching, but I believe the most important thing is seeing the Godly standard that is set for us.  Most scholars believe Matthew is basically summarizing this very long discourse and sermon.  Unlike our typical 30 – 45 minute Sunday messages in churches today, teachers in Jesus’ day spoke hours upon hours.  The Beatitudes (vs. 1-12) is basically declaring a blessing upon the people who desire to live for the Lord.  Jesus illustrates our lives like salt and light, both powerful symbols of life.  Jesus than tackles the issue of His relationship with the Old Testament Law (vs. 17-20).  The Bible is God’s written word and Jesus is God’s living Word (John 1).  Rather than focus on the letter of the law, many see these teachings as Jesus shining a light on the spirit of the law.  Over a period of time, the Jews made attempts to interpret the 600 plus OT laws and formed Mishnah (oral law).  Jesus comes and pretty much forces a paradigm shift in how the law is to be interpreted and applied.  It’s important to remember, the law points us to Christ.  Jesus goes on expound upon six important OT laws; murder (vs. 21-26), adultery (vs. 27-30), divorce (vs. 31-32), swearing (vs. 33-37) retaliation (vs. 38-42), and love of enemies (vs. 43-48).

Regarding application…True Righteousness.  Vs. 20, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Question: What is righteousness?  Certainly an attribute of God and one that His creation seeks to have in a relationship with Him.  However, righteousness is not something we can attain on our own (Romans 3:10, Psalm 14).  The Pharisees tried to attain this righteousness through external good works.  But Jesus exhorted everyone that you cannot enter heaven if your righteousness does not exceed the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  For the average Jew, this was shocking news!  They were the standard of righteousness to everyone in Jesus’ day.  By living righteous like them, this was the ticket to eternal life!  How could one be more obedient than they are?  Brothers and sisters, there are times when we fall into the same trap.  We worry about the external things we do that will get us to a right relationship with God.  But, God does not want or need our pious outwards behavior.  He is looking for true righteousness that starts in our hearts.  Question: How is your heart today?  Does it need some exercise?  Does it even need a transplant?  Let God continue His heart surgery on you!

Matthew 3

Vs. 1, “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea.”  Over twenty-five years have passed and Matthew now takes us from Jesus’ early childhood to His adult ministry.  All four gospels feature John the Baptist.  Question: Who is John the Baptist?  He is the last and greatest prophet (Matthew 11:11).  John was a cousin of Jesus, for his mother was Elizabeth and his father Zechariah.  It was the angel Gabriel who announced John’s birth and his future ministry would have the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1).  John the Baptist was an important link from the Old Testament prophet to connecting Jesus in the New Testament.  His one very important message was for the people to repent (vs. 2) because Jesus was bringing the kingdom of heaven (kingdom of God) to them.  In essence, John’s role was getting the people ready to receive Jesus by offering baptism.  The baptism was different than others done at that time for it was a one-time baptism that called for a commitment to God as the future unfolded.  John’s ministry was so charismatic and powerful that it caught the attention of many the religious leaders (vs. 7-12).  John did not pull any punches when it came to calling out the responsibility of their life.  I’m impressed by John’s fortitude and wisdom to keep Jesus on the forefront of the ministry God called him to.  John is quite surprised to see Jesus the Messiah come to him out in the desert to be baptized in the Jordan.  Naturally, John wants to be baptized by Jesus.  Question: Why would Jesus want to baptized?  While there are differing speculations, ultimately this public baptism endorses Jesus as the true Messiah.  The baptism acknowledges John’s ministry and also signifies Jesus’ identity with His people by setting the example of submission to God.  And certainly, God was well pleased with His son (vs. 17).

Regarding application…Judgment is Near.  Vs. 10, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Recently, I went to see the movie “Lincoln.”  As we sat down to watch the previews, my wife and I were astonished at all the post-apocalyptic type of movies that show the world is ending.  Yet, ever since John’s preaching and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we have been awaiting a time of judgment for nearly 2000 years.  There are many today that find no need to repent and believe they are already saved.  John’s rebuke was towards Pharisees and Sadducees who believed they were in the right.  Likewise, there are so-called Christians and other faiths out there who find no need to delve further into a real saving faith of the Bible.  Yet, this idea of bearing fruit is a constant theme throughout the Scriptures.  Question: What kind of fruit are you bearing?

John the Baptist

Hosea 10

Vs. 1, “Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself.  As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones.”  We continue the description of what God’s people were doing.  They were supposed to be a vine that represented the fruit of God, but now they took the fruit of God and gave honor to themselves and other gods.  We see the evidence of spiritual decline as they professed they had no king (vs. 3).  It’s as if they were saying, “God can’t do anything for us anyway.”  Hosea reminds them of their civil war in Gibeah (vs. 9) and how again defeat will come to them (vs. 14-15).

Regarding application…Honoring God.  Vs. 12, “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.”  Question: What was keeping Israel from honoring God?  Deceit (vs. 13).  They thought that all the other things in their lives and their thoughts would not affect how God responded.  Remember, we are to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  It’s not about what we perceive to be good.  For example, the so-called righteous Pharisees looked quite good in their reverence to God.  But, God knew their hearts.  Anytime we have the opportunity to come and worship God, the Lord knows what the intention of our hearts are.  Let’s not make the mistake of putting other things in front of the Lord.  The Lord waits for our hearts and His grace is always abundant.  Seek the Lord with all your heart.

John 19

Vs. 30, “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”  It is finished.  It is said that Pilate had Jesus flogged so severely so that when he presented a beaten down and nearly dead Jesus to the Jewish mob, they would have compassion on Jesus and not choose to crucify Him (vs. 1-6).  But the crowds still cried out crucify, crucify!  There was so much pressure on Pilate to appease them and in his cowardice, Pilate buckled under the pressure (vs. 6-16).  The best thing Pilate could do was have a sign of Jesus, King of Jews above his cross, but this did not make the Jews happy (vs. 19-22).  So sad to see the hatred and anger the Jews had.  They got what they wanted to see Jesus crucified, and yet they still complained.  Once again, we see Jesus caring for others (in Mary), as He himself was dying on the cross for our sins (vs. 26).  We also are reminded of the prophecies of Jesus being fulfilled in spearing his side, rather than breaking his legs (vs. 33-34).  And lastly, we see Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus come out of the shadows of hiding their faith and make the request not to have Jesus’ body so they could do the right thing in a proper burial (vs. 38-42)

Regarding application…Taking the Risk.  Vs. 38, “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.”  Question: What is so significant here?  Joseph of Arimathea as well as Nicodemus witnessed something as they saw Jesus crucified on the cross.  It is here that Nicodemus realized what it means to be born again (John 3).  Both men took a tremendous risk as Pharisee’s to now take care of the body of Jesus.  I suppose, the saying, “Better late than never” is very true!  It didn’t matter what the Sanhedrin would say, what their fellow Pharisees would say…they were going to do this for Jesus.  It was their way of honoring Jesus for they themselves would witness the sacrifice on the cross.  Question: What are you willing risk?  If you believe in Jesus, don’t fear the opinion of others.  Stand up for Him!  Share His love and reach out to others in the name of Jesus.  This first day of the week is a start of making this week a “Super” week for Jesus!