Matthew 7

Vs. 28, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching.”  Jesus is the master teacher!  In our chapter today, Jesus shifts from our treasures and worries to dealing with our relationships with each other.  Jesus first warns us about the proper way we are to discern and judge others (vs. 1-5).  Question: Are we never to judge anyone?  Certainly, we are exhorted to exercise discernment when it comes to false prophets (vs. 15-23) and proper judgment upon those who have sinned in the church (Matthew 18:15-20).  Question: What is this type of judgment look like then?  When we deal with absolutes and declare others unrighteous.  It is not our place to condemn others, for we do not know their thoughts and motives.  Only the Lord knows.  It’s possible for some to do good works with ulterior motives while others fail to do good works, but with a willing heart.  Before we go out to help others, we are to look into the mirror (vs. 5).  It’s so easy to judging others without looking at us.  The reference to dogs (I’m a dog owner) is negative because dogs in Jesus’ day were not domesticated.  To call someone a dog was a insult.  The same negative reference is laid to pigs.  In essence, Jesus warns us to make a right judgment about giving our time and love to those who have no mind of God (vs. 6).  Question: How are we to achieve such righteousness and relationships in the Sermon on the Mount?  Pray by asking and seeking the Lord (vs. 7-12).  However, as we close the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus finishes with some stern warnings (vs. 13-29) to everyone.  Jesus doesn’t gloss over the reality of heaven and hell and the roads that lead to them (vs. 13-14).  And as we travel along the road of life, there will false prophets/teachers/pastors/church members along the way (vs. 15-20).  It’s important to realize that Jesus wasn’t talking about some obvious pagan religious leader, but those amongst believers and in the church.  We also have to bear in mind, many in the church will claim to be believers, but have no mind of God in our churches today (vs. 21-23).  Lastly, we see Jesus share the parable of the wise and foolish builders (vs. 24-27).  The illustration was intended for everyone to see what foundation they were on spiritually; rock or sand.  The crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because He spoke with authority that came directly from the Father through the Spirit (vs. 28-29).

Regarding application…Going Upstream.  Vs. 14, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Salmon swim upstream on rivers to spawn and multiply.  Question: Why?  Because that is where they were created.  Jesus’ gives us a stark truth; only a few find it (Narrow Gate).  The broad and short road certainly connotes a way of life that is easier.  In a world where we want to be accepted and loved, it is not easy to live contrary to everyone else.  Notice that both the wide and narrow gates come first before the roads.  In other words, when we accept Jesus (Narrow Gate), our road will be less traveled.  So, this begs our question for the day.  Question: Which gate have you entered through?  Which road are you now traveling on?

Matthew 6

Vs. 33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  You may recall from our previous chapter where we addressed this idea of righteousness.  Jesus now goes on to expand on some examples how the Pharisees and teachers of the law loved to display their so-called righteousness.  Giving to the poor, prayer and fasting all were things that were good.  But many of the Jews wanted the praises of men and to flaunt their righteous deeds.  Don’t misunderstand, Jesus exhorted us to let others see our good deeds (Matthew 5:16), but the difference maker is that by seeing such deeds; they praise God rather than us.  Here we also see Jesus give us the model of prayer (vs. 5-15) in the Lord’s Prayer.  It’s important that we remember it is a model of prayer.  We acknowledge God our Father (vs. 9), we declare His will (vs. 10), we ask for provision and depend on Him (vs. 11), we ask for forgiveness and give out forgiveness (vs. 12), and acknowledge the spiritual warfare around us (vs. 13).  All of this certainly is expounded upon with our own words and heart.  Simply praying this verbatim each day would not be an appropriate prayer if that were all it was.  Fasting (vs. 16-18) is also mentioned here, though there was only one required day of fasting (Day of Atonement).  Certainly, fasting is depending on God and often comes with a particular purpose (prayer, worship, personal reasons to draw closer to God, etc.).  The latter half of our chapter (vs. 19-34), Jesus goes on to share about how can properly deal with our personal daily concerns (wealth, treasures, money, possessions) and still live righteous.  In Jesus’ day, much like today, wealth was a sign of blessings from God.  Bear in mind, Matthew the writer of this Gospel was a corrupt tax collector who fell into the trap of loving money (vs. 24).  Certainly, with all our material concerns can bring worry into our lives (vs. 25-34).  If God can provide for the birds of the air and lilies of the valley, how much more can He provide of you?  We will always have reasons to worry, but we also have reasons to put our faith in the Lord!

Regarding application…What Do You Treasure?  Vs. 21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Question: What do we treasure?  For the Pharisees and teachers of the law, they treasured the praises of others and the value of their possessions.  If you stop and think about it, life hasn’t changed too much.  No matter what age or generation you come from, it seems our parents always wanted us to achieve the very best.  They wanted good grades, good future colleges/universities, good careers for us all; all with the intention so they wouldn’t need to worry about us.  We haven’t changed.  We have fallen into the same trap.  Our achievements and the possessions we have do not dictate our value before God.  Question: What do you treasure in this life?  Don’t let the words of our Lord and Savior bounce off your heart today.

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 4

Vs. 1, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”  Before Jesus begins His public ministry, He fasts.  Fasting is often used to focus on a specific prayer.  Jesus sets the example for all of us!  But being in the desert to fast is not the only thing.  Temptation and the battle with the devil is Jesus’ purpose (vs. 1-11).  Question: What is temptation?  Temptation is an enticement to get a person to go contrary to God’s will.  While God is not the source of temptation (James 1:13), He often uses temptation to test us.  This temptation in the desert would begin shedding light to us that Jesus was able to endure the desert, temptation and most importantly the enemy.   After the temptation account, Matthew fast-forwards a bit of Jesus’ early ministry to where Jesus has now started his base ministry in Capernaum in Galilee (vs. 12-17).  Matthew is quick to point out the continued theme that the kingdom of Heaven is near (vs. 17).  In other words, the kingdom of Heaven is beginning to advance as the fulfillment of God’s word is coming to pass in Jesus.  In Jesus’ calling of the four in Andrew, Peter, James & John, we see their commitment to helping advance the kingdom of God.  They had already encountered Jesus prior to this (see Gospel of John), but this is Matthew’s way of showing their full commitment.  And lastly, we see the beginnings of Jesus’ growing ministry in Galilee (vs. 23-25).

Regarding application…Serve Him Only.  Vs. 10, “Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”  Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13, and responds to Satan’s most threatening temptation.  Satan was offering Jesus the “easy” way out.  You don’t have to die on the cross and people will still revere you.  We often read this passage not realizing that Satan offers this to us too.  Satan offers a world that seems to give us everything we need.  I talked recently in one of our Sunday messages at my church that our competition to bring people to church isn’t other churches, but the constant competition of what the world offers.  Brothers and sisters we cannot love and serve two things at the same time (Matthew 6:24).  In essence, we cannot have the best of what both worlds offer.  We must serve God and Him only!  Question: Is this possible?  Absolutely!  But we can’t do this alone.  That is why we have the gift of God’s church to pray and keep us accountable.  Question: Who are you serving?

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

Matthew 2

Vs. 1, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.”  An estimated two years have transpired; Joseph and Mary are living in Bethlehem.  Magi from the east have come to pay homage to the king of the Jews.  It is believed these Magi (magicians, eastern wise men, astrologers) came from Babylon which is about 900 miles!  We are not given the number of wise men, but they more than likely traveled in quite large groups.  The tradition of three comes from the three types of gifts presented to Jesus (vs. 11).  Question: How would they have known about this?  The dispersed Jews certainly would have shared the story of Balaam (Numbers 24:17) and his prophecy of a star that will come out of Jacob.  Herod felt quite pressured knowing that he was not the true rightful heir of the Jews, because he was only half-Jew.  Herod the Great ruled Judea and had the favor of both Rome and the leading Jews.  Yet, the baby Jesus was under the protection of His Father!  How interesting that Jesus’ life parallels the Jewish history; Jesus would also travel down to Egypt, and would return back to the land of Canaan.  The Holy Spirit guides Matthew in selecting OT scripture that reminds us (especially the Jews) that Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophecies.  The order to kill the baby boys two years and younger (vs. 16-18) would have been an estimated ten to thirty boys because Bethlehem was a very small town.  Lastly we see, Jesus and family return to region of Galilee in the town of Nazareth (vs. 21-23).

Regarding application…A Right Response.  Vs. 11, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”  What a contrast when you compare the magi to the response of Herod and all of Jerusalem (vs. 3).  Though Matthew’s gospel is targeted towards Jews, the ones who respond right are Gentiles.  We don’t know the magi’s hearts when they bowed down to worship or if they even knew the ramifications of it.  However, their response reminds all of us that Jesus is not only the king of the Jews, but came to save the whole world.  Question: How do you respond when you come before the Lord?  God’s response was to give His one and only Son (John 3:16).  Let us consider how we respond.  In a world that is often me-centric, it’s time to be a giver rather than a taker.

Matthew 1

Vs. 17, “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.”  Question: Why would Matthew open up with a genealogy?  Genealogies were very important in the biblical world and the Jews kept extensive records of their family history.  It was important for Matthew to trace Jesus’ genealogy to Abraham (vs. 2) and David (vs. 6).  Bear in mind, this is not an exhaustive genealogy and Matthew did omit some names.  The Gospels of Matthew & Luke both record genealogies and it is believed Matthew focuses on Jesus’ line through Joseph while Luke focuses Jesus’ line through Mary.  The genealogy would prove to the meticulous Jews that Jesus was indeed the true heir of the kingly throne and Messiah!  In the latter half of our chapter (vs. 18-25), Matthew gives us insight into the drama surrounding the birth of Jesus.  Certainly, many of us read this account without too much thought because we know it so well.  However, Joseph found out Mary was with child and was ready to break off the betrothal!  And then he gets visit by an unnamed Angel (probably Gabriel) in which he is told Mary is conceived via a miracle through the Holy Spirit!  It is here that Joseph is instructed to give the name Jesus to the baby.  Jesus was a popular name at that time and it was the Greek form of the name Joshua which means “The LORD Saves.”  Isaiah is quoted (Isaiah 7:14) and we see the one of the proofs that Jesus is the fulfillment of Immanuel (God with us).

Regarding application…God With Us.  Vs. 23, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”  God’s promises are true.  Recently, we were reminded in the Old Testament in Leviticus 26:12, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”  Though the temple of Jerusalem (symbol of God’s presence) would be destroyed in 70 AD, Jesus is the reminder to the Jews that God is always among them.  Certainly, this reminder is not reserved for just the Jews, but to all of us!  What a wonderful privilege to know in faith that we are never alone!  I encourage you to take time to chew on this.  God is not someone who restricted by space or time.  He is with you always.  There are moments in our lives where we feel alone and even desperate for love or answers to life.  God is not just a phone call of QT away, He is always present and faithful.

Numbers 36

Vs. 3, “Now suppose they marry men from other Israelite tribes; then their inheritance will be taken from our ancestral inheritance and added to that of the tribe they marry into. And so part of the inheritance allotted to us will be taken away.”  You may recall an earlier predicament (Numbers 27) with Zelophehad’s daughters who lost their father and had no brothers.  Who was to continue owning their family’s inheritance?  This issue was solved as daughters would inherit if no sons were alive or born.  Now, another issue arises with the same situation; what if Zelophehad’s daughters married outside of their tribe of Manasseh?  Because the current setup was that once the daughters marry, their land would belong to their husband.  God had an easy fix for them (vs. 5-15); the daughter must marry someone within her own tribe.

Regarding application…Our Practical God.  Vs. 6, “This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within the tribal clan of their father.”  What an interesting way to end the book of Numbers!  This is literally a household matter, yet we see how God concerns Himself even in such matters.  We certainly could go a very deep route on applying this to marriages in the churches today, but I think we should keep it more general.  This is a reminder that there are areas in our lives that are “grey” because specific issues just are not addressed in the Bible.  The Bible is our handbook to life in many ways, but God has given us His Holy Spirit, church and discernment to help consider the practical wisdom in choices we must make.  The more we think about community and the benefit of others rather than our own selfish needs, this is a good starting point to considering God’s will in our lives.

Numbers 35

Vs. 2, “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns.”  You may recall, the Levites tribe was not to inherit any land (Numbers 18).  But, they still needed somewhere to live so the Lord solved this by assigning forty-eight towns equally distributed among the rest of the tribes as locations for them to live (vs. 1-5).  I love how God provides for the Levites and also ensures that they will in turn be able to provide for the others!  We then see quite an interesting provision the Lord institutes with the cities of refuge.  These cities of refuge would serve as safe houses or sanctuaries for the accused.  Question: Why?  The cities of refuge were to provide a place of safety for those who had killed another.  Upon investigation and trial, intentional murder (first-degree murder) would not keep the accused safe from retribution.  However, unintentional murder (man-slaughter) would keep the accused safe as long as they stayed in the city of refuge.  How interesting that only after the death of the current high priest could an unintentional person be safe to leave the cities of refuge.  Only the death of the high priest would cover over this type of sin.  Certainly, we think of Jesus the great high priest whose blood was shed for all (Hebrews 4).

Regarding application…Capital Punishment.  Vs. 16, “If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.”  Question: Is capital punishment right or wrong?  This is certainly a polarizing topic to many.  Even within the Christian community, we have our differing scriptural understandings.  I stand on believing that capital punishment is just.  God is love, yet we cannot divorce the fact that God is wrathful too.  In His mercy and justice, God has instituted the right for people to receive consequences.  Previously, we were told not to seek revenge (Leviticus 19:18), but this was on a personal perspective.  Here in our chapter today, it is from a community’s perspective.  God does not contradict Himself.  It is not our right to dispense justice, but the laws in our society/community should ensure consequences.  If a man kills my family, I do not have the individual right to kill him.  But, through a trial and jury, he can be sentenced to death.  This is justice.  If the law allows a loophole through parole, and this man kills again; where is the justice?  In the end, whether a person is served capital punishment that is not the end all be all of their existence.  Remember the man on the cross next to Jesus who would be with him in paradise (Luke 23:42-43).  He was served capital punishment but was going to be with Jesus.

Numbers 34

Vs. 2, “Command the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter Canaan, the land that will be allotted to you as an inheritance will have these boundaries.” Previously, the Israelites were exhorted to ensure that they drive out all the former inhabitants of the land (Numbers 33).  In our chapter today, we see how they should organize and settle the distribution of the land.  It’s interesting to note that the extension of these borders did not fully stretch to the whole land of Canaan.  If the 2 ½ tribes (Reubenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh) came with the rest, would this have fulfilled the whole territory?  The latter half of our chapter (vs. 16-29), provide the names of the leaders who were to help ensure proper allotment of the land.

Regarding application…Importance of Team.  Vs. 18, “And appoint one leader from each tribe to help assign the land.”  D.L. Moody once stated, “I’d rather get ten men to do the job than to do the job of ten men.”  This certainly reminds me of when Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) came to encourage Moses to delegate his responsibility (Exodus 18).  Question: What’s the key to creating a successful team?  People need to buy in to what the goal is.  Take the Los Angeles Lakers as an example: Their new coach Mike D’Antoni is struggling to get his team to buy in to his system.  He has a very specific coaching style and it seems his players have been having a struggle into believing his system can work.  Moses had to delegate a team of people who he believed in.  But most importantly these leaders had to believe and surrender their will to the Lord.  The Israelites could not conquer without leaders on the same page as a team.  Likewise, the church is looking for people willing to work together as a team.  Keep fighting the good fight and put your trust in the Lord!