Grace and Peace

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Hello ladies!

Welcome to the Grace and Peace study blog.

We’ll be putting up thoughts on the chapters we study weekly.  Please feel free to contribute your thoughts in the response comments below – we would love to know how the word ministers to you.  More importantly – we would love to see you at the Grace and Peace study!  We meet on Monday evenings weekly.  If you have any questions or would like more information about how to get involved, please email Sarah at dear.sarah@rocketmail.com.

Let’s Dig In!

Romans

Author:  Paul the Apostle

Audience:  The Church in Rome, and Christians everywhere

Purpose:  To instruct in matters of doctrine and the basic principals of the faith.

Apostle:  Someone directly commissioned by Christ (in person) to take the message of the gospel and make disciples in every nation.  You can read about Paul’s dramatic transformation from Murderous persecutor of Christians to incredible hero of the faith in Acts chapter 9.  There were only 12 Apostles -the original 11 accounted for in the 4 books of the gospel, and Paul.

Disciples: Those who devote themselves to learning and living out the teaching of their leader.  We are all called to become, and make disciples of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The Church in Rome:  Founded by Jewish believers who had been converted at Pentacost (Acts 2)  The early church primarily consisted of Jews who had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  The gentiles that were flooding into the church were raising questions:  How do we instruct those who have no cultural or religious context of the law on how to follow the Messiah?  In turn there were some questions raised as to the ways to see if someone was properly living the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Rome was THE world power at the time, and the epicenter of culture and politics of the known world.  The issues facing the church there were much like the modern American cultural hot topics.  The same temptations and struggles that we deal with today were very much a part of the struggles the church of Rome had to face.  Paul will address and clarify the godly perspective on many of these issues and give a high call to righteous living.

Matthew chapter 9

Do you ever get the feeling that you don’t know what’s really going on? Like there’s more to the picture in front of you than you comprehend? I know I’ve been in many situations where pomp and circumstance seem to overshadow the true nature of the matter at hand.
Getting to the heart of the matter is something that was very refreshing about our Savior. He was not much for word mincing. Straight forward, to the point and boldly spoken truth was the mark of His ministry. The Authority of Christ was remarked upon by those who heard him. The confidence that comes when speaking purely in terms of truth is astonishing and sometimes shocking. Breaking through the clouds of human wisdom and common perception Jesus got to the heart of the matter with the paralyzed man in chapter 9. Seeing this man being carried in by his friends, the first thing Christ says to him is about what is not seen, but the greater need.

“Take heart, son! Your sins are forgiven.” – Matt 9:2 (NLT)

I know that if I had been an onlooker of the situation I would probably not have thought about the heart of the man in need of redemption. I would have been looking at his legs and expecting whatever came out of Jesus to be about the cripple’s apparent physical condition. Sometimes we can be blinded by the apparent need and forget to look at the heart of need. When we go through trials and struggles we can be consumed by what is happening to us instead of looking at what is going on inside of us, or our brothers and sisters. Jesus has spent the first part of His ministry adjusting the perspective of the Jewish people. Taking the hope of salvation from being defined as something that needed to be done by hands and feet, to the deeper workings going on inside the hidden person.
When we experience circumstantial suffering sometimes the focus needs to be adjusted from what is happening to us to what is going on

    inside of us.

How beautiful that our Savior exceeds expectation and touches where the greater unseen need lies. The man on the mat may have been struggling with issues of doubt, condemnation and self identity. Remember, in order to participate in many of the customs of Judaism there were sacrifices, pilgrimages and cleansing rituals that were required- especially for men who were heads of the household. It was practically impossible for a paralyzed man to be an actively practicing Jew. Perhaps his heart was deeply discouraged. Whatever the state, it was such that the first words from Jesus are an encouragement: “Take heart”!
Jesus is also straightforward in surprising ways where others would rather be covered in secrecy. He turned and addressed even the thoughts of the religious leaders who begin to breed evil thoughts and gossip among each other, accusing Jesus of blasphemy.

“Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why are you thinking such evil thoughts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk’? I will prove that I, the Son of Man, have authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, take your mat, and go on home, because you are healed!”

This miracle is astonishing in the manner of execution as much as the actual healing. Bringing into light and out in the open what the men around him were attempting to do without being seen or heard he challenges them directly.
If Christ is our model what does this say about how we should handle gossip and slander? Granted, we cannot know what is in the hearts of men. However, how often do we pull the punch when truth needs to be spoken instead? I often instinctively shirk the opportunity to address situations where I see and know full well that what is being done in secret is wrong, all for the sake of saving the face of either myself or others. Who does that actually protect? Walking in truth is hard. Mostly because it requires honesty and close leaning on the Lord in a challenging way. When we draw nearer to the heart of the Lord we see how much He desires for us to be vulnerable with Him in our need- the unseen needs of the heart.
Another beautiful thing about our Savior is that He is a safe place to be vulnerable. He is THE place to bring our needs and desires. He asks for it-

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matt 11:28 (NLT)

Matthew chapter 8

Our God is so loving in his constant communication to us.  The beautiful pictures He paints of His love for us are everywhere.  The love story of God and man is observed in the history of Israel and the way He called them, set them apart, gave them the law, and redeemed them.  The people of Israel could literally map out the timing, appearing, and manner in which the Messiah was to appear through the law, prophecies and festivals they had been given.  There were specific signs they could look for.  In chapter 8 Jesus fulfills some of those signs in the matter of the healing of the man with leprosy.

“Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.  Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy.  This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.” – Matt 8:3-4 (NLT)

The ceremony and offerings that Jesus is referring to can be found in Leviticus 14:1-32.  In His miraculous healing Jesus was not only fulfilling the law (as he proclaimed he would in chapter 5) but sending proof to the priests that He was the Messiah.  The tragedy of Israel emerges in this chapter when Jesus is approached by the Roman Centurion whose servant is dying back at home.  Jesus responds saying he will go to the home of the Centurion and heal the servant.  The Centurion, oddly enough, refuses.

“But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”  Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.  I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matt 8:8-12 (NASB)

When the leper knelt before Jesus asking to be healed, he did so in reverent worship acknowledging Christ had the power over things physical and spiritual. When the Centurion came before Jesus he did the same.  What was it that caused the Savior to marvel at the Centurion and not the leper?

The thing that the Centurion touches on is a theme that goes all the way back to creation: Jesus only needed to speak the word and it would be so.  This is a quality unique to God.  He speaks and it is done.  In Genesis 1 – we see the Lord speak creation into existence.  The reason it happens as He says is due to His supreme authority over all things.  And when Christ came to earth the Word of God (the manner in which God communes with man) was wrapped in flesh that we would recognize.  John touched on this concept in the first chapter of his gospel.

“In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.  The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.” – John 1:1-4 (NLT)

The authority of Jesus over life and death is exactly what the Centurion was speaking of, correlating it to the way authority works in the army – when the superior says it, it is done.  When the orders are given it is carried out, no questions or contingencies.  What an awesome thing to remember when we come before God – all that He says is true, has been, and will be.  No questions or contingencies.  I know I don’t always believe this in my heart.  If I did, would I have room for doubt?  The doubt that grows into fear and sometimes steals my joy?  Do I believe my God has the authority to back up His promises for my future and good?  (Jer. 29:11)  If not, this is where my faith MUST grow.  The beginnings of faith are where we take God at His word.  Something the Centurion does.  His faith was stronger than anyone Jesus had yet encountered.

Here’s the thing – the Jewish people had been living and breathing the prophetic examples of the coming Messiah.  Jesus lived fulfilling those things.  Some recognized those things, but many in Israel did not.  But the Centurian was not Jewish, he was Roman.  A man who was living without the cultural context and engrained knowledge of the coming Messiah sought out the Christ with faith that shows itself true and deep.  This is why Jesus marvels.  His faith rivals that of the people who you would mst expect to have true faith in Jesus at the Messiah.  The tragedy is this:  the people who had been given the most opportunity, had seen up close and personally the faithfulness of God in his passionate pursuit of the human heart, were missing the point.  They were missing the Messiah who had finally come in an answer to their need.  This is why Jesus grieves for His people (Matt 23) who will have to suffer the fate of eternity without God despite the gifts that had been showered on them of knowledge of the Messiah and His coming.

Is our generation any better?  How many do we know that have been raised with or given the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the salvation He gives, yet refuse Him?  How many of us are not walking in the callings of our God to live in His passionate love for us through obedient living?  We who have more access than ever to the Word of God and can learn what is so readily available to us – the way we’re called to live with abandon running into God – how will we be judged?

Let us run into the Lord.  Let us grow our faith and take Him at His Word.

Matthew Chapter 5-7 (The Sermon on the Mount)

Israel had a problem:  The law was being worshiped instead of inspiring worshipful living.  The relationship between God and man had become a checklist – things to do to create satisfaction in the hearts of man.  (stoking the fires of pride – believing we can become holy because of what we do, instead of God who is Holy giving us holiness)  The religious leaders were clinging to what had become their construct and source of security.  They were watching Jesus very carefully, as was anyone who was looking for the marks of the Messiah.  Anyone who came against the law would have immediately been labeled a heretic, and discarded as a teacher – raboni.  In his mountaintop discussion with his disciples, Jesus addressed first things first:

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” – Matt 5:17-18 (NLT)

Truth:  The law is a gift from God to man.  Jesus states right off the bat a couple important truths:  He is not here to abolish the law. He is not here to discard the things that have been communicated to man.  The law is meant to be fulfilled.  This is what you might call a preamble – the umbrella statement over what He will be saying for the next couple chapters in what we often refer to as His “sermon on the mount.”  He is about to deal with the law and clarify what righteous living looks like, in conjunction with the law. Bit by bit he starts drawing distinctions.  We find in the distinctions he makes a theme:  The Kingdom of God is not about checking off items on lists of “do”s and “don’t”s but about relationships.  Righteous living is a matter of the heart.

“But I warn you – unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all!” – Matt 5:20 (NLT)

Wow.  Jesus makes a highly inflammatory statement.  What does that mean?  If the guys leading Israel are not doing it right… where is the hope?    Jesus is about to break it down.  He touches on the the hot topic issues of the day, things that are still the hot topic issues of today – Divorce, adultery, and the sanctity of marriage.  Anger, Revenge, and Murder.  Financial stability, judgement of others, prayer… big stuff.  He touches on each one with a resounding theme:  It’s about the heart.  Righteousness does not come because of the sacrifices we make or the rules we live by – righteousness is given to those who bring their hearts to Jesus, and let Him reign there.  Your heart must be made pure in Him personally.  It is about what we feel there and how we respond to it.  Do we seek out closeness to our Savior and surrender to Him, or seek other ways of so-called-redemption?

“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  – Matt 6:19-22 (NASB)

Through the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the deepest desires of our passionate loving God was made possible – a repaired, personally intimate and redeeming union between man and his Creator.  The desire that has been planted in all of us t0 live a fulfilled life is only satiated when we give our hearts to the Lord.  Outward living does not draw us into communion with Him.  Acts of religiosity do not give us purity.  He is after our hearts.  Where is your heart?  Are you prizing time with your Savior?  Are you giving Him the time to reveal to you the hidden places where healing is desperately needed?  Are you letting Him till the soil to plant good things in you?  If you are trying to get to a place of peace by doing right and hoping that living in a detailed religiosity is going to clear you of your burdens you are mistaken.  Over and over Jesus points out that if you live by the law, you cannot gain salvation there.  More will always be required.  The more that is required of us is simply everything.  Give Him everything.  Give Him your heart.

When we allow the Lord to go to town with our hearts, we find that what we do starts to change accordingly.  When we surrender the strongholds crevices we reserve to keep safe in our own strength, He floods us with new things that transform the way we live.

Interestingly enough, it all makes sense if we harken back to the very first 2 commandments.   “The Lord your God is one” and “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20:2-3 and Deut. 5:6-7) Our God is Jealous and desiring of our fervent attention.  Let’s surrender the false god of self-made righteousness and allow Him to teach us with heart knowledge, not head knowledge.

The Sermon on the Mount is a highly important passage that many have, and will preach on for years on end.  Rich in application and full of deep things of the Spirit, this passage can also be extremely relevant in our own lives.  Here is your challenge:  Go through chapters 5-7 of Matthew keeping in mind that Jesus is after YOUR heart.  Where are YOU when it comes to planks and splinters?  Are there any areas where your “good eye” is causing you to sin?  Take the time to do it with Jesus in all vulnerability, expecting to hear from Him personally.  He just might shock you with how up close and personal He gets.

Matthew chapter 4

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” – Matt 4:1

Temptation.  Countless are the ways we encounter and deal with this element of human frailty.  In this one verse, what deep love we witness in the act of our savior.  He was obedient in following the Spirit to a place of unpleasantness and encounter the greatest adversary in existence; Satan himself.    He did this out of love, to share in the sufferings of man.  To know what it is in human flesh to be tempted by the artful master of lies and confusion.  Christ went further to make himself vulnerable by fasting for 40 days and 40 nights.  When fasting, at 40 days, your body is suffering intense pain.  Physically without resource and willingly without reserve of strength, Jesus had one weapon:  The Scripture He had stored in his heart.

Three times Satan tempts Christ (in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of the heart.)  Three times Jesus answers not with arguments that He came up with on the spot, but reciting what was already declared in the Word of God.  This is our example.  Nothing will ever trump the power of the Word of God.  When facing trials of any kind, the Word of God is the source of guidance, comfort, strength and everything we need to overcome circumstance, trial or temptation.

Let’s take a look at the first temptation of Christ.

“Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  But He (Jesus) answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” ” – Matt 4:3-4 (NKJV)

The direct quote that Jesus is making is to the law in Deuteronomy

“And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” – Deut 8:2-3 (NKJV)

The person speaking in the passage above is Moses.  He is referring to the series of events that unfold in Exodus 16 and 17.  (Take some time to read through those when you get a chance.)  The people of Israel had a need:  They were wandering in a desert.  There’s not much food to be found out there.  Especially when you need to feed an entire nation.  The Lord’s provision was something entirely new and never seen before (Not even on tv):  Manna.  This special bread was so new, that they literally named it “What is it?”  Every morning, the Lord showered His people with bread from heaven, only enough for one days worth.  And this was not a one time, one week, or even one year thing.  Check out Exodus 16:35 and you’ll read – this is the way Israel was fed for 40 years!   Talk about experiencing the faithfulness of God first hand.  Also, what a beautiful way to learn through experience what it is to rely on the provision of God daily.  This was an object lesson for Israel on what it is to wait expectantly on the Lord.  Also, to walk in strict obedience to what he says.  When the Lord promised Israel manna, it came with a couple of explicit commands.  1 – don’t store up any overnight. 2 – don’t gather any on the sabbath.  And when people didn’t follow those commands there were direct consequences.  1 – they became infested with worms and 2 – the Lord reprimanded Israel for their lack of faith.  It wasn’t just the bread God was giving Israel, but the opportunity to walk in complete faith and obedience.

The Lord was angered by this:  Israel did not take Him at His word.  Obviously, when God communicates to man, He means it!  It’s IMPORTANT STUFF!  The object lesson of every day going to God for nourishment, relying completely on Him for the needs of THIS day was beautifully seen in the giving of manna from heaven.  When Jesus says “Man does not live on bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” he’s saying that God is continuously giving us nourishment for our Spirit, directly from His lips.  The stuff we need to withstand temptation: Spiritual nourishment.  Are you giving the Lord time daily to speak His word into your spirit?

There is a promise in Revelation where we see how to overcome the enemy:

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” – Revelation 12:11 (NIV)

If you are willing to be sown into the seeds of the Word of God, the testimony of HIS work in you and His sacrifice on the cross will be the means by which you overcome!  Dig into the Word.  Be nourished!

Matthew chapter 3

At the time of Jesus’ life on earth, the Jews were in the throes of oppression by the Roman government.  The pressing need for salvation from the occupying force was driving the people of Israel to look vigilantly for a Messiah.  The Messiah had been promised to the Jewish people by God through the prophets and leaders for centuries.  The deliverance that God had promised was set to appear within this generation.  The people were hungry for answers and hoping for a messiah that would free them from the tyranny of Rome’s pax romana – enforced peace.  Most were not expecting the freedom that the Messiah would bring was liberation from so much more than the current circumstantial problem of Rome.  The result of Christ’s death and resurection would be a freedom from the reign of sin in the lives of all who would believe in Him as their savior.
Unfortunately, the spiritual health of Israel was in great decline, in no part due to the corrupt leadership of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Charged with the task of shepherding the nation of God’s chosen people, the men who had been elevated to these coveted positions of spiritual authority were perpetuating slavery to the law.  A sense of entitlement had crept into the theology of the Jewish leaders who were running the temple of God like a business operation and promoting a way of life that was works centric.  When they approach Jesus’ cousin John, he immediately calls them out.

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matt 3:7-8,10 (NLT)

John is talking about some serious judgement here.  He is delivering this message:  You are leading an entire nation into spiritual slavery, and God holds you responsible – the way you do things is about to end.

Israel’s priests had become their taskmasters.  Israel’s task was this:Follow the letter of the law.  Impossible.  Worse even than the burden of living up to an impossible standard is the perpetuation of this lie:  You can become worthy of God’s favor.  The idea that if you work hard enough you will become ‘good enough’ to merit the favor of God.  The religiosity and traditions had taken such deep root that works and birthright had become the way that people sought to make themselves holy.  Israel built their identity around 2 things: the law, and being descendants of Abraham.  The idea that they were living out the promise of God by being a holy nation (in the order of the law) and carrying out the bloodline had garnered a sense of entitlement to the promises of God.  An idea that John decimates right out.

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” – Matt 3:9 (NLT)

How far this generation had come from understanding what the relationship between Abraham and God truly was.  Let’s take a look at the promise John is referring to – the promise God gave Abraham.

Abraham is the father of the Jewish people and was obviously a righteous man.  Funny thing: the law didn’t exist yet (in written form as communicated to man.)  How could Abraham be counted as righteous if he hadn’t been made righteous under the law?  In Genesis 15, we see God promise Abraham that he will become the father to a nation of people great in number like the stars – too many  to count.  Fantastic!  Here’s the hicup – Abraham was old with a barren wife who was post menopausal.  No kids.  But God is promising Abraham what is circumstantially impossible.  Here is the moment of truth:

“And Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord declared him righteous because of his faith.” – Gen. 15:6 (NLT)

Faith.  A belief that is so intrinsic to who you are that you build your belief and way of life upon it.  A state of the heart.  A state of being that prompts doing.  This is how Abraham was made righteous.  Not a list of do’s and don’ts.  The heart.  Taking this idea and applying it to the term “children of Abraham” the promise inherited is one of faith.  Righteousness is the result of the heart work.  How different this is from the ideas that were being enforced by the religious rulers in the Messiah’s generation.  How far they were from being like Abraham who Believed in God and gave Him his heart.  Instead they were practicing a religion that said “if you are faithful in doing the work, you can be righteous.”  Jesus was about to arrive and rock their world.

God will be faithful; He needs no human help.  He can make good on any of His promises and the human component is unnecessary.  Any idea we have that God ‘needs us’ to carry out His will is a complete fallacy.  We GET TO participate in the completion of His plans.  It is a gift that we can claim any involvement in the handiwork of God.  He could be using rocks instead.

Matthew chapter 2

“As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins…When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. ”  (Matt 1:20-24)

“After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother”  (Matt 2:13-14)

“When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.  “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”  So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother.”  (Matt 2:19-21)

Then, after being warned in a dream, he (Joseph) left for the region of Galilee.”  (Matt 2:22)

Obedience.  The word itself inspires an emotional response.  The feeling that comes over you when you think of the concept of obedience is usually a pretty good indicator as to where you are in your relationship with the Lord.  A rush of guilt or joy?  A shrinking away or a drawing near?

There isn’t much in scripture about Joseph, the husband of Mary, the man who raised the Messiah.  There are many things we do not know about him, and many questions that are raised as to why he kind of drops out of the picture.  But what we do get to see, is Joseph be obedient.  We get to see it a lot!  In the first 2 chapters, God communicates directives to Joseph 4 times, 3 times in person.  Every time God directs, Joseph does it.  Immediately.  That’s how obedience works.  When you are doing it right, you are doing it right away.  Again, how you respond to this idea emotionally is a pretty good indicator as to where you’re at with residing in the Lord.

In order for there to be obedience, there must be something you’re being called or commanded to be obedient to.  The Lord has to give you a directive in order for you to follow it.  How available are you making yourself to the Lord?  Are you able to discern when it’s His voice that’s calling you?

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” – Jesus    (John 10:27, ESV)

When we are walking closely, in communion with our savior, we know His voice.  We don’t have to swim through the murk of our flesh or the outside world that clamors for our attention, straining to hear if we are drawing near to Jesus.  Drawing near to the Lord takes time and focus.  This requires sacrifice.  Sometimes the sacrifice is time.  Letting go of accomplishing everything on our to do list in order to commune with the Lord.  Sometimes the sacrifice is our fleshly pride.  As we draw near and encounter a greater vision of His glory we often recognize more and more the depth of our own depravity.  This hurts.  But the cool thing is because you’re drawing near to your savior, He’s right there to catch you and hold you.  Remind you that you’re His, and you are what He calls you – redeemed.  He’ll whisper words of healing and promises because you’ve come close enough to hear His voice.  You see there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.  And then, obedience is a joy.  Following along after the lover of your soul becomes what you desire and in His presence the only place you want to be.

Obedience.  Joy, or sorrow?  The difference is in the choice you make between shrinking away and drawing near.  Do not let fear keep you from encountering fullness of joy in the presence of God, and knowing what it is to walk in obedience.

Matthew chapter 1

Before I was someone who loved getting into the Word of God, I was someone who was intimidated by the Word of God.  In matters where reading scripture on a personal level was involved I carried guilt because I just flat out didn’t want to read the Bible on my own time.  Mostly because there was so much I would read that was either a) boring, or b) I just didn’t understand, and believed I would never understand.  I mean, seriously, the first part of Matthew chapter 1 is a pretty good example.  What do we start out with?  A genealogy.  First of all, what could be more boring than a list of names?  And if there was any significance to be found in that list, I certainly was never going to be able to unlock it.  Or so I thought.  After a change or heart about spending time in the word of God (you can read more about that process here) I looked at that list with a fresh perspective, and suddenly the picture of God’s Greatness I had in my mind was blown away.

Something you may not know about most New Testament genealogies, is that you can look up the people listed in other parts of scripture and read about their lives.  (Even if I knew this, it was something I never did)  These are real people who lived through real events and God did amazing things in and through them.  The genealogy of Jesus has some pretty incredible stories.  If you take a look at that list, something that may be a bit unexpected for the culture contemporary to Matthew is this:  He put 4 women in there.  By name.  Most genealogies have only men.  Father of so and so is father to so and so and so on…  4 Women?  How intriguing!  Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.  All 4 of them women, and none of them Jewish!  And what women they were – each of their stories are full of God’s amazing redemption and how he orchestrates His will in the lives of humanity.  Let’s take Rahab for instance.

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho (yeah, THAT Jericho.  Go ahead, sing the song) who should have perished with all of the city when the Israelites demolished it.  She should have perished, except for this: She believed in the God of Israel.  She declared that He was truly the Lord, and because she submitted to Him in faith, God spared her and her family.  She had heard about the God of Israel and when many around her responded in fear without turning to Him, she risked her life to further His purpose by harboring Jewish spies and helping them escape the city, so they could bring intel back to Joshua.  After the fall of Jericho, she married Salmon – an Israelite.  And what Matthew’s genealogy tells us next is she had a son.  Her son – was Boaz.  Boaz – the kinsman redeemer of Ruth, a righteous man who was pure and wise in all his dealings.  He is still the example of what a righteous man worth waiting for looks like.  He must have had a mother who raised him in the way of the Lord, who taught him how to value purity and honor the Lord by living righteously.  That woman was Rahab.  What a transformation- from prostitute to Great woman of faith.  What a beautiful display of God’s faithfulness, compassion, mercy, and transforming power.  And that is encapsulated in the genealogy.  Just looking a little deeper we see amazing stories.  Rehab’s story can be read in the book of Joshua (chapters 2 and 6).  You can read about Tamar in Genesis 38, Bathsheba in II Samuel, and Ruth in the book of Ruth.  I strongly encourage you to take look at each of their stories in the light of the fact that these women were an integral part of God’s plan to bring the Messiah.

All that from a genealogy?  And this is just one of those stories.  Boring is nowhere near a word that I’d apply to any of those people’s stories.  Ultimately we get this truth more and more revealed to us:  God is faithful.  He was faithful to Rahab, and Ruth, and Tamar, and Bathsheba.  He will be just as faithful to you.

 

Matthew – the Gospel

Author: Matthew, also known as Levi

  • He was a tax collector:  Not a profession to be proud of in the current culture.  Tax collectors were the lackeys of the Roman government that was occupying Israel.
  • Jesus called him, and he went.  He knew he was a sinner, and needed to repent.  He did with so much commitment he quickly turned around and invited all his tax collecting buddies to meet Jesus when he held a dinner in His honor.
  • Key References:  Matt 9:9-13, Mark 2:15-17 and Luke 5:27-32

Audience:  The Jews.

Purpose: to prove Jesus as the Messiah, the King and Redeemer of Israel

Matthew shows many of the ways Jesus proved he was the Messiah in word and deed.   The gospel was crafted towards a Jewish audience to draw out the prophetic and cultural symbolism and prophecy Christ fulfilled.  Often Matthew will give a narrative of events that took place, and then refer to the prophecy Jesus is fulfilling in this manner:  “This is why it is written” or “This is why it is said”

II Peter chapter 3

“Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.  And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.” – II Peter 3:11-14 (NLT)

Live for the moment.  Our westernized culture is begging us to do this at all times.  What do you need or want right now?  Satisfy that desire!  Take care of the need with your own hands and build security.  Buy that thing.  Eat that stuff.  Take that painkiller.  Feed your cravings.  Not to mention we’re saturated in technology that feeds our impatience and builds our emotional dependency on instant gratification.  How many times have you looked at the screen of your gadget and groaned “Come on…” while it takes a nanosecond longer to load the thing you’re looking up to entertain yourself, usually passing the time?  (For my part, I can’t even think how many) We’re gathering our resources and creating comfortable existences that ease our moments and circumstances- circumstances and things that Peter is reminding us are going to be destroyed.  Reminding us of things Jesus told him, things Jesus told us.

In Matthew’s gospel, we read of Jesus telling the future.  (Chapters 24 and 25)  He gives some specific detail as to the nature of His return and what life will be like when he comes back.  People will be going about their business, having parties and meetings and weddings and shopping and buying and selling… life will look like business as usual.  His point was this:  ‘Don’t get passive and caught up in your day to day circumstances.  Be waiting and watching for my return’.  The Christian life is to be filled with an ever present thoughtfulness toward Christ’s second coming.  Peter wrote 2 letters about the kind of lives this should motivate us to be living.  We should be vigilantly storing our hope in the Lord, seeking after purity and godly living in submission to God.  This begs the question:  Is this what the church looks like today?  Is this what your life looks like today?

Looking back over the letters Peter wrote, there is an undeniable passion that is rather urgent and demanding in tone.  Peter is riled up in his spirit about the church living godly lives with undivided focus and dedication.  To me it feels like a karate chop admonishment and it prompts me to ask “Dude, Peter, why all the pressure?  Why so blunt and immediately insistent?”

 “Therefore, I will always remind you about these things—even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught.  And it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live.” – II Peter 1:12-13 (NLT)

Peter was a physical witness to the glory of Jesus Christ.  (1:16)  He lived with Jesus, hung out with him.  Spoke, ate, slept, walked and lived life with Jesus.  They were friends.  Close friends.  Peter witnessed the life, and death of his friend.  He saw him taken prisoner and led away to be physically tortured, mocked and gruesomely killed.  If you had witnessed the horrible death of your closest friend, wouldn’t you think about it every day?  The cost of our eternal hope and sacrifice of our savior is a reality that was lived through by Peter.  And the joy of Christ’s resurrection, the gravity of the gift of grace – Peter witnessed this in person.  His own eyes and hands.  How real is the gospel to you?

The truth of Christ’s death and resurrection when realized, prompts us to respond with the kind of passionate living Peter has been exhorting us to.  If I really thought about the death and resurrection of my savior as a reality every day, I would give everything to Him.  I would live every moment for Him, seeking after the kind of living He asks me to do.  One of the things Jesus repeatedly told his followers to do was look forward to His return- Live expectantly.  Expectant living is forming the habits of soaking in the scripture, and doing as He commands.  Preach the gospel, and disciple the nations.  Live in obedience.  All of this in eager anticipation of our Bridegroom returning.  Take a look at the things you give focus to in your life and weigh them in the balance of eternal things.  Am I feeding my circumstance, or the eternal soul?

“I am a spiritual being… After this body is dead my spirit will soar.  I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal.”  – Max Lucado

Live for THE moment.  The moment He returns, and the clouds part to reveal our coming Savior King in all His glory.

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