Posted in Ephesians, John, Matthew, Revelation

The Mysterious Bride

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” Matthew 22:2

In this parable a king (God the Father) is having a wedding feast for his son (Jesus), and his people (the human race) are invited to attend. The first invited (the Jewish race) reject the invitation which leads to their judgment (Matthew 22:7), yet this leads to others being invited (the Gentiles), both good and bad, but even then, “many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

What is unclear is who the son is marrying. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells another parable about a coming wedding feast and this time the people being described are in the wedding party. There are ten bridesmaids who are waiting with the bride (who is not mentioned in the parable) for the bridegroom’s party to come and take them to the wedding feast. If it was an honor to be invited by the king to a wedding feast for his son, it is a greater honor to be in the wedding party. But we are still left with the question: Who exactly is Jesus marrying?

Finally we have a definitive answer in Ephesians 5:31-32: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” You and I aren’t just invited to the wedding; we aren’t just part of the bridal party; we are called to be the bride! Our invitation is actually a proposal from God. No wonder John wrote, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9)

Yet when Paul writes the words, “…and the two…,” he is saying that Jesus is one – the Bridegroom, and the church is the other one – the bride. You and I aren’t called to be brides, but to be part of the bride. No wonder Jesus prayed that the Father would make us one! (John 17:21) Individually we are sons and daughters, but we are only the bride together. One bride – there isn’t a young bride and an old bride; there isn’t a black bride, a Latino bride, and a white bride; there isn’t a male bride and a female bride; there isn’t a rich bride and a poor bride; and there aren’t Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, and Charismatic brides. There is only one bride which is why pleasing God must involve us letting go of our prejudices, and learning to love and accept one another in Christ.

Jesus is calling, inviting, knocking, and yes, even proposing to you. Will you refuse the One who gave His life for you, or will you respond by giving Him all of your heart?

Posted in Matthew

Private Devotion

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” Matthew 23:25-26

Several years ago I was on an extended fast with the purpose of obtaining more of the power of God and the gifts of the Spirit. One day near the middle of the fast I was crying out to God for these things, and He spoke a clear word to my mind. I believe it was God because it was so different from what I was praying, and clearly not the result of my natural thought processes. Here was the thought: “I never want your public anointing to be greater than your private devotion.”

With that thought came an immediate realization that my current public anointing was already greater than my private devotion which meant that I was in a dangerous place as a minister. Here I was praying for more public anointing, which would have made the imbalance even greater, while God was wanting to do something more foundational inside of me. Needless to say, the focus of my fast changed from that moment on. It’s not that I still didn’t want the power,  I just knew the road to it must include a greater devotion that could sustain the greater ministry.

The Pharisees were concerned  about the outward. They measured God’s favor by their outward blessings and continually sought to put forward the best possible image of themselves. They were more concerned about how they appeared before others than about how they actually were before God. Jesus told them to stop focusing on the outward and to start cleaning up the private, inward parts. He assured them that if they would do this, the outward would take care of itself.

Don’t worry about being a Christian example to others. Concern yourself with actually being a Christian before God. Having to appear to be anything other than you are in public is a massive burden and almost impossible to keep up. No wonder Jesus’ burden was so light; He never worked on appearing. He made sure things were right before the Father, He kept a strong private devotion, and then just lived it out all day.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Ephesians, Isaiah, John, Matthew, Proverbs, Psalms

The Secret of the Lord

“The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant.” Psalm 25:14

The margin of my Bible has “intimacy” as an alternate translation of “secret.” I believe that  a certain measure of the fear of the Lord is necessary for anyone to come to Christ. Proverbs says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) A revelation of God’s love for us in our weakness and immaturity is necessary to grow us up in our faith. (Ephesians 3:17-19) But I think to walk close to God’s Presence another level of the fear of the Lord is required. 

It says in Isaiah 11:3 that Jesus delighted in the fear of the Lord. He experienced the secret promised by Psalm 25:14, enjoying the continual intimate friendship of His Father. He didn’t fear man, He didn’t fear death, He didn’t fear storms, He didn’t fear lack of supplies – He only feared God and cared only about obeying what the Father was saying. (John 5:19)

Maybe the idea of the fear of the Lord seems heavy to you. I think it was just the opposite for Jesus which was why He was able to say, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) He only had to please the Father to be a complete success. Paul said something similar to this: “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent (from the body), to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord…” (2Corinthians 5:9-11a)  

Only one ambition! What a simple life, what an easy yoke, what a light burden. May God pour out the Spirit of the fear of the Lord on each of us and make it our delight for His glory.

Posted in Luke, Matthew

One Thing

“The Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Mary chose the good part. She was “listening to the Lord’s words, seated at His feet.” (Luke 10:39) She was enjoying the Lord, being refreshed by His Presence and changed by His words.

Jesus said this was the one necessary choice.  All the rest of life will flow out of this vital relationship if we will just make it our priority. Necessary means something you cannot do without.

Martha hadn’t made that choice. She loved the Lord but she was “distracted with all her preparations.” (Luke 10:40) Jesus implied that she was living the bad part; serving Jesus without enjoying Jesus. Giving and giving and giving without receiving from His Word and Presence. Distracted from the glorious One by our busy lives that are supposed to be in service to Him.

Have you ever fallen into this trap? Life gets busy. Priorities get mixed up and pretty soon the urgent rather than the important starts dominating our lives. We stop really living and find ourselves barely surviving.

We usually, like Martha, find someone else to blame. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40) What’s she really saying? “Lord, don’t you see that I’m burnt out – do something!  It’s Mary’s fault! or the church’s fault or my spouse’s fault or my boss’ fault”…the list goes on.

Jesus is gentle but firm: (my paraphrase) “What Mary has, she has chosen – she has chosen and she has chosen correctly. I’m not going to take away  her joy because you’re miserable. Martha, you too can have what Mary has. Choose to fellowship with Me. Let your service be fueled by My Presence.”

Jesus said, “Come to Me you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  Do this one thing and continue to do it and everything else in your life will take its proper place.

Posted in 1Corinthians, John, Matthew, Philippians

Assurance of Victory

“No temptation (test) has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond what you are able but with the temptation (test) will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1Corinthians 10:13

 You and I can win every day, but to do so, we must begin by agreeing with God’s definition of what victory as a Christian looks like.

 First what it doesn’t look like.  Winning does not mean having no troubles, struggles, or issues to deal with.  Jesus said the wind and the waves will crash against every life (Matthew 7:24-27) and promised His disciples that they would have troubles in this world. (John 16:33)  He even warned us ahead of time to not be offended by this. (John 16:1-2)

 So what is victory, and how can I walk every day with assurance?  Instead of delivering us from life’s troubles, God promises to walk with us through them.  The same Greek word, “peirasmos,” is translated as temptation and test.  Which is right?  The same set of circumstances can easily be described as both a temptation and a test – Satan tempts to bring us down; God allows tests to purify and strengthen us.  God won’t always prevent a temptation, but in His faithfulness He will limit them, so that we can walk through our troubles with Him.  Tests invite us to draw near, so we will know the way He has provided for our escape even though “escape” may mean strength to endure through instead of a deliverance from.

 In school we need to pass tests to advance to the next grade and I think it’s the same in the kingdom.  God’s beloved children don’t get an identity of failure when they give into temptation but will just keep retaking the same test until we pass it.  We decide how long the process lasts. (Three weeks could end up being 40 years!)  He ultimately wants to build in each of us an assurance of victory that is able to say: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Posted in Matthew

Stepping Out in Faith 

“Go and announce to them that the kingdom of God is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received.” Matthew 10:7-8

I arrived a little late to my son’s football game and couldn’t figure out what was going on – the teams were on the field, the crowd was in the stands, but it was completely silent. The school superintendent was standing at the front gate, so I asked him what was going on.

“There was a helmet to helmet collision on the opening kickoff,” he explained, “and the player from the visiting team hasn’t moved since. We’re waiting for the ambulance.”

A thought came unbidden into my head: “Pray for him.” I knew it wouldn’t be obedience to pray for him while sitting safely in the stands.  I was supposed to go out onto the field, put my hand on him, and pray for him there.

“But Lord, no one has asked me to pray,” I complained. Silence.

I started walking toward the field because I didn’t want to disobey. I walked down the sideline and felt I could still turn around without anyone noticing me, but then I came to the point where a decision had to be made. A group of adults, including referees and coaches, were surrounding a young man laid flat on his back in the middle of the field. I could either turn right and go out onto the field, or turn left and join the crowd in the bleachers.

I turned right. When I reached the group, I pretended like this was normal and I belonged there.

“I’m a pastor and I’m here to pray,” I said in a calm voice trying to reassure them that this was okay.

No one replied one way or the other but just backed away. I got on my knees, put a hand on the young man, and prayed a short prayer for God’s peace and healing to be released.

Just then the ambulance arrived so they put him on a stretcher, and we all followed back through the front gate to load him up. The visiting coach touched my arm on our way out.  “Thank you for praying,” was all he said. The young man was fine after being examined, but I never knew whether God healed him or whether he even needed healing.  What do I know for sure?  God wants to meet people at their point of need even if it’s awkward for us!

Posted in 2Corinthians, Daniel, Genesis, Hebrews, John, Matthew, Psalms

The Gifts of the Magi

“Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

As we think about Christmas let us reflect on the gifts given by the magi which speak to the Gift given by the Father to the human race. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (2Corinthians 9:15)

  1. Gold – The gift given to kings. The magi didn’t come to worship one who would become king; they came to worship Him who was born king. This caste of wise men from the east were likely in the order of Daniel with access to his prophecies. Daniel gave the time Messiah would appear (see Daniel 9:24-27) and alluded to His Divine nature as well as His universal rule. “One like a son of man…was given power; all the peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
  2. Incense – The gift offered by priests. In the Old Covenant kings were from the tribe of Judah and the family of David; high priests came from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. But God’s promised Messiah would be both king and priest as was an obscure person in the Old Testament named Melchizedek. (Genesis 14:18) David prophesied about this new order of priesthood that meant there would have to be a new covenant: “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)
  3. Myrrh – The spice used for burial. Messiah would not only be the priest to offer sacrifice; He Himself would be the sacrifice. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The shepherds who were called to witness the birth were rabbinic shepherds whose job it was to watch over the lambs that would be sacrificed in the temple. On Christmas, God called them to watch over the Lamb that would replace all other sacrifices. “Jesus sacrificed for our sins once for all when He offered Himself.” (Hebrews 7:27) Let’s remember the true wonder of Christmas is the One born for us.
Posted in Luke, Matthew

Different Genealogies

Matthew 1:16 “… and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”

Matthew 1:6 “… and to David was born Solomon…”

Luke 3:23 “And when He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being supposedly the son of Joseph, the son of Heli…”

Luke 3:31 “… the son of Nathan, the son of David…”

Critics of the gospel accounts of Jesus birth have often pointed out the different genealogies given by Matthew and Luke. How do we reconcile two completely different lists that have nothing in common except for David and Joseph? The answer is quite simple if we look at the goals of the two authors.

Matthew is writing to Jews and wants to present Jesus to them as their king. He traces the lineage of Jesus from Abraham through David and then through David’s son Solomon all the way to Joseph. Joseph was a direct descendant of the kings which means that Jesus Himself is in that line. Matthew tells Joseph’s story – how the angel appeared to him when he was going to divorce Mary; how God spoke to him to flee Bethlehem after the visit of the Magi; and how God spoke to him again when they were in Egypt and it was time to return to Israel. It is only fitting that he gives the genealogy of Joseph which is what he does.

Luke is writing to Greeks and presenting Jesus as the Son of man – the ideal man. He traces the lineage of Jesus from Adam through David and then through David’s son Nathan all the way to Joseph: “the son of Heli.” Luke says Jesus is “supposedly the son of Joseph.” Supposedly, yet he isn’t really; he’s only the son of Mary. Luke tells Mary’s story – how the angel appeared to her and said she would carry the Savior; he tells of her trip to Elizabeth’s and about her famous prayer; and then he tells of the visit of the angels at the birth and how Mary, “pondered these things in her heart.” It is only fitting that Luke would give the genealogy of Mary who is also a descendant of David and that is what he does.

There is no word in Koine Greek for “son-in-law.” If you were describing someone as a son-in-law you would just use the word “son” which is what Luke does here. Joseph’s father was Jacob; his father-in-law, Mary’s father, was Heli. In the Greek, Joseph could be described as being both the son of Jacob and the son of Heli with no contradiction.

Posted in Hebrews, Mark, Matthew, Revelation

Wake Up!

“You have a reputation of being alive but you are dead.  Wake up!… Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly.  Repent and turn to Me again.  If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” Revelation 3:1-3

 The Christian life is a long journey at night.  God has ordained that we would have to choose Him in a world of moral darkness that is opposed to the gospel, so that those who choose Him in the dark will never reject Him in eternity when we see Him in the light.  But we have to stay awake!

 Presumption put the church at Sardis asleep.  They had a reputation of being alive, probably gained by past experiences of life and reflected by a doctrine of life, yet in reality, they had become dead.  Like the foolish virgins (See Matthew 25) they presumed that the oil they received at the beginning would be enough, so they didn’t bother to keep their relationship with God fresh.

 America is one of the most dangerous places in the world spiritually.  I’ve had missionaries tell me that they are glad they don’t live here because life is so easy and busy in America that they find it difficult to stay spiritually awake.  On the mission field they sense their absolute dependence on God’s protection and provision so it’s easy to trust Him day by day, but here they find the urgency to seek Him is lacking.

 The enemy seeks to put the church to sleep by the cares, worries, and pleasures of this life. (Mark 4:19)  Do you have a strategy to stay awake?  When I drive at night I make sure there is a passenger to help keep me from dozing off.  I believe God has given the church to be that spiritual passenger for each of us. (Hebrews 10:24-25).  There’s something about gathering together and hearing the word of God that reminds us of who we are, who God is, and of what’s truly important.  Are you part of a group where someone regularly asks you if you’re still awake?

Posted in 2Timothy, John, Matthew

The One Behind the Scriptures

“All Scripture is God breathed…” 2 Timothy 3:16

The Bible is one of God’s most startling revelations of Himself. It was written over a period of 1600 years by over 40 different human authors with a variety of backgrounds, from three different continents, and in three different languages, yet it is one story, one history, with one message. It is by far the best selling book in history. You probably have one, or maybe even a few, lying around your house. The question is how does one read the Bible in a way that he will find God and not just be frustrated by the seeking?

There were two major religious groups at the time of Christ that had access to the Scriptures but didn’t find God: The Sadducees and the Pharisees. To the Sadducees Jesus said, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)  They were a group that had exalted intellect and human wisdom above the word of God. They didn’t believe in angels, miracles, or the resurrection of the dead, even though the Old Testament Scriptures taught these things. Because of this grave error they lost all understanding of spiritual things. Many in America have made a similar mistake. When you put your opinion above the word of God and only believe the parts of the Bible that agree with your thinking, you make yourself out to be the final authority and end up denying the God of the Scriptures. Submit your heart to the Scriptures, humble your mind before God, and you will find yourself being changed by God’s word as you seek to apply it to your life.

The other group who had access to the Scriptures was the Pharisees. Jesus said to them, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.” (John 5:39)  The Pharisees believed every jot and tittle of the Scriptures from Genesis to Malachi, but they had exalted them to the place of God. They lived for rules and interpretations and spent much of their time arguing doctrines and splitting hairs over who was the most right, while attacking anyone who didn’t share their insights. Unfortunately many Bible believing people get caught in this trap today. The Bible is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to reveal a living Person who is in love with us. Truth itself, Jesus said, was not a belief system, but found in His Person. He said, “I am the truth…” (John 14:6)  He is the Word that became flesh. He is the One that the Scriptures were written to reveal. Read your Bible to find the One behind it and you will find life in Jesus Christ.