Lenten Daily Devotionals 2021

Lenten Daily Devotionals 2021

  • Post category:Pastors Desk

Rev Dr. Samson Parekh, Senior Pastor

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 27:45-53

FAITH IN JESUS

Jesus’ death was an extraordinary event in the history of the world. The Son of God who became the Son of Man died bearing the sins of whole humanity on the cross at his own will. St. Augustine correctly says,  “He gave up his life because He willed it, when He willed it, and as He willed it.” The unique incident was followed by extraordinary events marking his death as unique.  

First of all, the curtain of the temple was torn into two from top to bottom. Spurgeon puts it this way, “As if shocked at the sacrilegious murder of her Lord, the temple rent her garments, like one stricken with horror at some stupendous crime.” This was the inner curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. “The curtain was a vivid demonstration of the separation between God and man” (Guzik). Only the High Priest was able to enter the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle the blood on the Ark of the Covenant (Lev. 16; Heb. 9:7). Now the curtain was torn because of the atonement Jesus made for all. Jesus entered through the curtain into the Most Holy Place with his own blood to obtain eternal redemption for everyone who put their faith in him (Heb. 9:12; Heb. 4:16; Rom. 5:1-2).

Then, there was an earthquake and the rocks split. Matthew does not explain the reason. Spurgeon comments,  “Men’s hearts did not respond to the agonizing cries of the dying Redeemer, but the rocks responded: the rocks were rent. He did not die for rocks; yet rocks were more tender than the hearts of men, for whom he shed his blood.” There is some truth in his comment. The people who were present at the cross looking upon dying Savior were supposed to rend their hearts and believe in the Son of God. But they became oblivious to the supernatural signs, hardened their hearts as rocks, and rejected Jesus by crucifying him.  

Probably as a result of the earthquake, the tombs broke open and the bodies of righteous people were raised to life temporarily. Again, this incident is found only in Matthew’s gospel, perhaps symbolic of Christ conquering death through his redemptive work on the cross (NIV notes). Spurgeon considers the incident as the first miracles typifying the spiritual wonders that will continue till Jesus’s return: rocky hearts will be rent, graves of sin will be opened, the dead in trespasses who are buried in the graves of lust and wickedness will be quickened and come out from the dead, and will go to the holy city, the New Jerusalem.

Even at death, Jesus’ power was demonstrated through supernatural signs but Israel as a nation still did not believe in him. So, they failed to bring God’s blessings to the nations. Therefore, now that assignment is given to the church. We believe in Christ and his gospel by faith and must be eager to fulfill the Great Commission.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to have faith in everything that is written in your Word and with that faith to go to people and preach the gospel. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 27:32-44

IN HIS STEPS

In Psalm 55:12-13 the writer expresses his pain by saying, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it … But it is you … my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship.” This is exactly what Jesus experienced when he was hanging on the cross. Judas who ate with Jesus at the same table betrayed him into the hands of the priests for money. Jesus’s close companions to whom he called his friends in John 15:15, deserted him, and even Peter repeatedly denied him. And when hanging from the cross, it was not only the Gentile soldiers and the thieves jesting at him but also his own people—the Jews for whom he came to save (Matthew 15:24). They addressed Jesus as the “King of Israel” in mockery.

Even in such betrayal, Jesus did not utter a word of retaliation or insult to his mockers. Apostle Peter says, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats” (1 Pet. 2:23a). If Jesus wanted to retaliate he could have asked his Father to send twelve legions of angels (Mt. 26:53). But he did not do so.

Instead, Jesus forgave those who taunted him while he was laying down his life for them. He forgave those who nailed him to the cross (Lk. 23:24). And he entrusted himself to the God who judges justly (1 Pet. 2:23b). Peter says that by going through such suffering, Jesus left for us a perfect example to “follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).

This is one of the marks of Jesus Christ’s disciples. There are times when we experience betrayal and even deep suffering from our close comrades whom we trust with our whole heart. Sometimes such betrayal makes our hearts bleed. Our natural reaction is to take revenge. But in those situations, we have to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Without having any thought of retaliation, we must remain calm and forgive those close associates who have turned against us. Then we will be able to reflect the nature of Jesus Christ in us and God will bless us for his glory.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us not to retaliate when we are insulted but to forgive those who act against our interest. Amen. 

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 27:19-26

THE CONSCIENCE OF PILATE

The Jews brought Jesus unto Pontius Pilate for judgment and capital punishment because Jews had no right to award such a sentence (Jn 18.31). Only Pilate because he was the Roman governor had the power to crucify criminals (Jn 19:10). The chief priests accused Jesus of the crime of blasphemy. But when Pilate examined Jesus, he remained silent.

Pilate is an interesting character. He was willing to release Jesus on several factors (Jn 19:12). Though Pilate had Jesus flogged, he twice affirmed that he found “no basis for a charge against him” (Jn 19:4, 6). Pilate also knew that it was out of envy that the Jews brought Jesus to be condemned to death (Mt 27:18), so the charge against him was biased. Even Pilate’s wife sent him a message about the innocence of Jesus (Mt. 27:19).

Pilate’s conscience was telling him that Jesus was innocent. Barclay says, “His (Jesus’) dignified silence made Pilate feel that it was not Jesus but he himself who was on trial. Pilate was a man who felt the power of Jesus—and was afraid to submit to it.” And Matthew Henry states, “God will not leave himself without witnesses to the truth … even when it seems to be most spitefully run down by its enemies, and most shamefully deserted by its friends.” Jesus had two witnesses for his innocence: Pilate himself and his wife.

But even though Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, he could not release him (Jn 19:10). He succumbed to the pressure of the mob because he feared a revolt might occur. Instead, in a hypocritical and convenient way of satisfying his conscience, Pilate washed his hands per the Jewish custom (Deut. 21:1-9). Responsibility and culpability do not magically disappear by washing off your hands (just look at the tragic figure of Lady Macbeth vigorously scrubbing her blood-stained hands while sleepwalking: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”). 

Later Pilate was ordered back to Rome to stand trial for cruelty to and oppression of the Jews and Samaritans. Eusebius of Caesarea records that Pilate committed suicide on orders from Emperor Caligula. There is a legend that his body was thrown first in the river Tiber and then into the river Rhone of Gaul region.

If we are faced with responsibility, we must fulfill it with a clean conscience and the fear of the Lord. Or else, we are accountable to the living God.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us not to shun our responsibilities because of fear or apprehension. But help us to fulfill them with your help. Amen. 

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 26:47-56

VIPER IN THE BOSOM

When Jesus did not show any signs of establishing his Kingdom but rather started speaking about his suffering and death, Judas was disappointed. He decided to make a profit from Jesus anyways and agreed to hand him over to the chief priests. He found the prime opportunity when Jesus was not surrounded by the crowds in the garden of Gethsemane. Judas came with a large crowd to betray Jesus into their hands.

There is an idiom in Aesop’s Fable “The Farmer and the Viper” that goes, “Nourishing a viper in one’s bosom.” A farmer found a viper that was lying unconscious in the freezing snow. Taking pity, he picked it up and placed it inside his coat. The viper was revived by the warmth of the farmer’s body and then bit his rescuer who dies instantly. This is the story of Judas. Like a viper, he bit his Master and handed him over to death for few silver coins.

Humanly speaking, there is a good lesson to learn from this story. There are always “Judases” around us who create relationships out of ulterior interest. When their interest is not served, they do not hesitate to go to any extent in hurting us. We need to be aware of those so-called “friends.”

There are famous incidents in the Bible of such betrayals: David betrayed Uriah the Hittite and had him killed by deception in 2 Samuel 11; Joab betrayed his cousin Amasa and murdered him in 2 Samuel 20; Absalom killed his brother Amnon by deception in 2 Samuel 13. Today, the world is filled with opportunist people. Therefore, Jesus says in Mat. 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Guzik correctly asserts, “Serpents are attacked by everyone, and must use creativity and wisdom to survive.” We always need to keep our eyes open so that no one will take advantage of us.

There is another lesson to learn from Jesus’s statement in v. 52. When Peter drew his sword and cut off the servant’s ear, Jesus told him to put his sword back into its sheath because of a principle. Apostle Paul describes this principle in Gal. 5:6-7, “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” He who lives by the power of the flesh will reap the fruits of the flesh described in Gal. 5:19-21. He who lives by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit will reap the fruits described in Gal. 5:22-23. Jesus’s way has been a way of humility, servanthood, and self-sacrifice. We, as his disciples, must follow not the way of the sword but the way of humility and self-sacrifice for the good of humanity.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to be wise so that we will not be taken advantage of. And help us to live in the attitude of humility and servanthood. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 26:36-46

LONE RANGER

This incident occurred in a place called Gethsemane. The name means “oil vat” or “oil press,” which was a place for crushing olives to obtain the oil.

Jesus’s own crushing began with his own troubled and sorrowful mind. It is surprising to note that his closest comrades (Peter, John, and James) with him for a long time but did not notice his agony. Then, in v. 38, Jesus spelled out in words that his “soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” but still they were not able to recognize his agony. Even when Jesus asked them to keep watch with him, they did not notice his pain (v. 38b). When Jesus needed them the most, they were sound asleep. Jesus was left alone to fight the battle.

Many times the people of God are faced with their own Gethsemane experience. For example, take Job. He knew that he did not commit sin. He also knew that God was behind his extreme suffering that defied his reason. At that time, instead of consoling him, his friends accused him of sin, passed judgment on him, and were oblivious to his suffering. But Job fought on like a lone ranger. Ultimately God blessed him and made him a blessing to others.

We too go through our own Gethsemane experience in life. In the times of our crushing pain and suffering, those on whom we depend for support might be oblivious to it. But with God’s help, we fight our battles. We accept the cup of suffering, focus on the God-given task, and go on fulfilling that duty faithfully. Ultimately, it is God who will shine through us and make us light for others.

 

God commanded Gideon to break the earthen pitchers so that the light of the torches would shine and Israel would have victory over Amalekites (Jud. 7:20-21). In 2 Cor. 4:6, Paul talks about the light of God’s glory in us. Then in v. 7 he says, we have this treasure in the jar of clay so that when it is broken the light of God will shine through us. In v. 10 he says, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” And that is how we remember the suffering of Jesus during this Lenten season.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to shine forth as your light when we go through the struggle of life all by ourselves. Amen.

Devotional are not published on Sundays.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 26:31-35

BOAST IN WEAKNESS

It is surprising that after the solemn Feast of Passover, Jesus talks about the falling away of the disciples. The prophecy of Zech. 13:7 was going to be fulfilled. Beyond the disciple’s wildest expectations, Jesus was going to be arrested and tortured by both Jews and Romans. The time was approaching quickly. The disciples’ first and natural response would be to run away, thus leaving Jesus all alone to be tortured. In their bewilderment, they were going to disassociate themselves from him.

But without understanding what Jesus truly meant by foretelling his death, Peter hastily declared his total loyalty to him. And when Jesus responded by saying he will deny him three times, Peter affirmed his loyalty all the more emphatically. Peter thought himself stronger than what Jesus knew him to be. He was relying on his own strength in such a declaration. Barclay correctly says, “It is the greatness of Jesus that he knew men at their worst and still loved them.” His knowledge of our weakness does not turn his love into bitterness or condemnation. That is a good lesson for us to learn as disciples of Jesus.

Paul warns us in 1 Cor. 10:12 saying, “ So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” This is what happened with Peter in his overconfidence. Matthew Henry claims that there is a proneness in all of us to be over-confident. But improper self-confidence is the first step to a fall. It is better to rely on God’s strength rather than our own.

Jesus knows our every weakness. Therefore, when we rely upon him, he makes us strong.  Apostle Paul suffered from some weakness – we do not know the specifics. However, this is what he says in 2 Cor. 12:9, “But he [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Therefore, instead of being overconfident in independence, it is wiser to depend on Jesus’ strength. God’s grace works better in our weakness than in our strength.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to be aware of our weakness and always rely on the strength of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 26:14-16

GREED OF JUDAS

Various interpretations arise regarding the question Judas asked the chief priests: “What are you willing to give me if I hand Jesus over to you?” One thing is sure that he was driven by his greed when he asked it.

The disciples thought Jesus would be the Messiah who immediately delivers Israel from the oppressive regime of the Romans. Once Jesus did so, they would each receive honorable positions and benefits (Mat. 19:27-29) – or so they thought. But when Jesus did not talk about a victory but rather his own suffering and death, the disciple’s expectations were crushed. Judas, driven by his own selfish ambition and greed, decided to make a profit off of Jesus anyways. Judas’s own evil desires led him to betray his savior (Lk 22.3, Jn 13:27).   

That is what James 1:14 says, “Each person is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin … to death.” Our evil desires can become the footholds for Satan to manipulate our hearts. It is the crack that lets Satan enter into our hearts and eventually unleash a flood of sinfulness. This happened to many people in the Bible.

We see evil desires inflict the hearts of Adam and Eve. Satan was able to get a hold of the couple’s hearts because they allowed him to toy with their desire to be God-like. The tragic results were rebellion and the Fall. Adam and Eve’s offspring were no exception either. As the saying goes: like father, like son. Cain let the evil desires of jealousy consume him up to the point of murdering his own brother. David is another example. He succumbed to Satan’s lures in 1 Chronicles Ch. 21 when he carried out an unauthorized census. In his pride, David rejected his commander’s suggestion and paid a heavy price in the destruction of his people. The story is the same for characters in the New Testament. Peter, a close friend to Jesus, attempted even to prevent Christ from going to the cross for the same reason.

We might be discouraged by the constant failures of these biblical figures who consistently give in to evil desires. But we have a perfect role model in Jesus to emulate. When tempted by Satan three times in the wilderness, Christ never allowed any desire of self-exaltation or self-satisfaction to enter his mind. Therefore, he protected himself wholly from Satan’s attacks by using the Word of God.

Satan is described as a lurking lion ready to devour us in our moments of weakness. If we find ourselves in an unguarded state of mind due to evil desires, we might open up a crack for Satan to tempt us further. Therefore, it is said in James 4:7, “ Submit yourselves, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.” King Solomon said it best: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). As per Ps. 119:24, let the Word of God be our counselor and strength against Satan.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to guard our hearts by relying upon you and your Word. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 26:6-13

RECKLESS REVERENCE

This incident took place in the house of Simon the leper in Bethany. It was the residence of Jesus’s good friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It was less than two miles from Jerusalem (Jn 11:18) and Golgotha. A worn-out path is discovered connecting Bethany to Golgotha. It is from the vicinity of Bethany that Jesus was taken up into heaven (Lk 24:50).

Simon perhaps was cured by Jesus because if he were still a leper, he could not have hosted guests for a dinner. France rightly says that his nickname remained as a reminder of his former disease.

When Jesus was reclining at the table in Simon’s house, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. The alabaster jar itself was costly because it was most likely made of marble (NIV note). And the perfume within it was “very expensive.” Mark calls it “perfume of nard” (Mk. 14:3) which was made from aromatic oil of plant roots found in India. It cost about three hundred denarii. One denarius was a daily wage of a worker in Israel. So the cost of this perfume was about a year’s wage. It indeed was an expensive aroma.

But she did not hesitate to break open the jar and pour all the perfume on Jesus’s head. Kings and priests were anointed in Old Testament times. But here she anoints an itinerant preacher who does not even have his own place to lay his head. In this way, she showed her extreme respect and love for Jesus. It was done from the impulse of her loving heart.

Also, she did not care about what people would say. Surely enough, she was criticized by Jesus’s own disciples under the pretext that the cost of the perfume could have been used to help the poor. But what was waste in the eyes of man was heartfelt worship in the eyes of Jesus because he looked upon her worshipful heart. He interpreted her act as an anticipation of the embalming of his own body, which was to be given for the life of the world.

Yes, it was reckless and eccentric act of the woman. But Spurgeon correctly says,  “All those who have done wonders for Christ have always been called eccentric and fanatical … I wish we were all of us ready to do some extraordinary thing for Christ – willing to be laughed at, to be called fanatics, to be hooted and scandalized because we went out of the common way, and were not content with doing what everybody else could do or approve to be done.” That is the message of the passage that every man and woman of God must take to heart.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to love you and do our best for you without thinking about the people. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 25:31-46

JUDGEMENT OF THE WORLD

Guzik says that when Jesus spoke of his coming glory, some believe that he was suffering from megalomania (delusion about one’s own great power or importance). But Jesus’s glory was anything but delusional. He put it on an awesome display at the mount of transfiguration. And his miracles and teachings were evidence for his supernatural powers as well.

After he comes in heavenly glory, Jesus will sit on his kingly throne. All nations will gather before him for judgment. There are two generally accepted interpretations of this judgment: 1. It is the judgment of those nations who rendered kindness to the Jews during the tribulation period. 2. It is the final great white throne of judgment in Rev. 20 to determine who will enter the eternal kingdom depending upon their treatment of God’s people during the persecution (see, NIV footnote).

Although the discourse is talking about the kind treatment rendered to God’s people during the tribulation, the principle of taking care of the marginalized and needy is applicable in every age. There are certain important observations to be noticed from this discourse.

  1. Jesus will come in his heavenly glory to establish his Kingdom and sit on his throne of judgment. He will ask for an account from all the people about their treatment to God’s people who were in need.
  2. A Kingdom has been prepared since the creation of the world (v. 34). Only those who are blessed by our heavenly Father will inherit this kingdom. These are the righteous mentioned in v. 37. Out of natural love and concern for the needy, they take genuine care of them.
  3. Those who turn duff ears and blind eyes to the plight of the needy and marginalized people are cursed by the King and will be cast into the eternal fire. They showed no mercy to the helpless people so they will receive no mercy from the King (Mat. 18:22-34).
  4. The treatment Jesus wanted people to render to the needy is not difficult: welcome a stranger, give food and drink, attend the sick, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners. So, no one can give an excuse that these things are burdensome or beyond reach. Barclay correctly asserts, “It is only when we love God that man becomes lovable … The love of man must be firmly grounded in the love of God.”

God is on the side of the marginalized like widows, slaves, orphans, and aliens who cannot take care of themselves (Dt. 26:12-13).  James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans, marginalized, and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” By taking care of those described in Mt. 25:37-39, we reflect the caring nature of our King.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to take care of the needy and marginalized people, and that way, reflect your love and concern. Amen. 

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 25:1-13

WISE PEOPLE OF GOD

This parable is a follow-up to Jesus’ discourse on the signs preceding his Second Coming and the preparedness of God’s people in Ch. 24. This parable is variously construed as an allegory, simile, metaphor, and parable. Here are a few points to glean from it:

  1. The Coming of the bridegroom, Jesus is a fact to be fulfilled. His first coming was prophesied long before his incarnation. And all of the prophecies were faithfully fulfilled in due time. Therefore, we must be assured that his Second Coming will surely take place just as he prophesied.
  2. Jesus will come unexpectedly like a lightning bolt in the sky (Mt. 24:27, cf. vv. 38-41). He might come in the middle of the night when it is least expected as the bridegroom did in this parable. 
  3. The people of God should be prudent like the five wise virgins who made wise provision described in Mt. 23:45-47. Here is a mention of a “wise servant” who faithfully carried out the responsibility assigned to him in making provision for God’s household.
  4. The people of God should not be like the five foolish virgins who were unprepared for the coming of the bridegroom. They were like the “wicked servant” described in Mt. 24:48-50. Since the wicked servant did not consider the return of his Master seriously, he got engaged in enjoying the pleasures of the world and manipulated others for his own prominence.
  5. The mindsets of the servants in Mt. 24:45-47 and of the virgins in this parable are of extreme importance. If our focus is dedicated to the return of Christ, we will behave wisely. If we get distracted by the things of this world, we will be caught by utter surprise at his return.

This parable gives us encouragement to emulate the sensible servant and the five wise virgins. At the same time, it warns us not to behave like the wicked servant and the five foolish virgins.

As we spend a set apart time with the Lord in prayer, let us examine ourselves as

to where our focus is? Is it on the coming of the Master or the positions, prominence, property, and power of this world?

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to be focused on the return of our Master and not on the pleasures of this world. Amen. 

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew Ch. 24

BEWARE AND BE FAITHFUL

Matthew does not inform us as to how the disciples came to accept the thought of the departure and the coming back of Jesus. C. Ellicott explains that Rabbinic schools used the phrases “this age” and “age or world to come” to define the time period leading up to the Messiah’s arrival when he will inaugurate a glorious age. The disciples connected this thought with Jesus’ teaching about God’s kingdom and associated it with Jesus’ coming back to establish his Kingdom (Mt. 13:40, 19:28). Anyway, in response to their question, Jesus tells them about the signs of his coming back at the end of the age.

Even though Jesus said that his second coming is certain, he did not indicate the exact time of his return because he clearly says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (v. 36). Therefore, it is a pointless waste of time in attempting to pinpoint a date on the modern-day calendar. However, Jesus has given us signs to watch for which will take place before he returns. His intention seems to keep the future clouded so that we will always be prepared to go with him whenever he returns.

Jesus said that nations will go to war with each other (v. 7); there will be famines and earthquakes (v. 7); persecutions of Christ-followers will be intensified (v. 9); wickedness will increase and many peoples’ love will grow cold (v. 12); the sun and moon will be darkened (v. 29). It will be a time of great tribulation, distress, and the beginning of the end.  False prophets and false Christs will perform signs and miracles (v. 24).

Jesus’ answer begins with a warning: “Watch out” for the deceivers who would come claiming themselves as the coming Messiah. Many have set the time of Jesus’ Second Coming. The most famous prediction was by William Miller who set the time of Jesus’ return to be in 1844. But when Jesus did not come, many people were disappointed and some even fell away from their faith. What is more important than predicting a date is preparing our attitudes for Christ’s return as Jesus said, “You must be ready because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (v. 44).

Therefore, as Christians, we should: (1) Constantly be on the watch for false prophets, preachers, teachers, and evangelists. (2) Be ready at all times for the Second Coming of the Lord. (3) Resist indulging in the affairs of the world to satisfy the lust of the flesh and pride of life (vv. 49-50). (4) Feed each other with spiritual nourishment to strengthen the body of Christ. (5) Be engaged in fulfilling the Great Commission. (6) Be mindful of the Master’s judgment if we do not do our work faithfully unto him.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to be on our guard at all times and nourish your household faithfully. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 23:37-39 

COMPASSION OF CHRIST 

Jerusalem is mentioned by name over 625 times in the Bible. It is a compound noun from yir (city) and shalayim (peace)—it is literally the “city of peace” (Isa. 33.20). Jerusalem was the city of God established on the holy mount of Zion (Ps. 48:1-2, Ps. 125.1). Often it is mentioned that God chose Jerusalem to be his personal dwelling place (1 Kgs 11.36, 14.21, 2 Kgs 21:4). And he delivered the city many times from the aggression of foreign armies. It is evident that God dearly loved the city Jerusalem and his people Israel.

Yet, Jerusalem had a long history of being disobedient towards the Lord. Even in the time of Jesus, Jerusalem was a city of rebellious people. They persecuted God’s messengers and even killed some of the prophets (v. 35). The citizens did not care for the Son of God and ridiculed him often, even attempting to kill him at times. Because of such treatment towards the God who loved his city, Jesus laments over Jerusalem for its stubbornness and disobedience.

Jerusalem in v. 37 is in the vocative case which means when Jesus saw her, he addressed her in a lamenting manner as “O Jerusalem! O Jerusalem!” This was a heart-wrenching cry from a heartbroken person. Luke tells us Jesus wept for the city (Lk. 19.41). His heart was filled with compassion and sorrow for three reasons. (1) Jesus specifically came to God’s chosen people to offer them peace and eternal security. He gave evidence of his identity as the appointed Savior through miracles and divine teachings, but Israel did not recognize him. (2) Even though the people stoned and killed his prophets, Jesus still loved them with his whole heart and wanted to protect them. But they neither honored him nor paid any attention to him. On the contrary, they tried to deliberately get rid of him. (3) Because of Israel’s outright rejection, destruction was looming large and was unleashed when the Roman general Titus conquered the city. Titus sentenced thousands of Jews to cruel deaths while he burnt the temple. In AD 70, Jerusalem was reduced to a pile of rubble (24:2).

Here we see a clear parallel to the Christian gospel. Jesus so loved the sinful world that he came to save us. He established peace between us and God through his sacrifice on the cross. There are a majority of humans who do not recognize Jesus Christ and rebel against him thus rejecting his offer of salvation. If they continue in such rebellion, they will be subjected to the judgment of Hell’s eternal fire. This reality causes pain in the heart of God. And it should cause pain in the hearts of his saved people. Therefore, Christians must make Jesus known to the rebellious so that they will know him, embrace him, and be saved by him.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, grant us a compassionate heart for those who turn their hearts away from you in rebellion, and proclaim to them the salvation in Jesus. Amen

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 23:25-28

WHITEWASHED TOMBS

This passage begins with the fifth woe to the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Hypocrites are like actors. They do not project their real self but put on an act. That is what they were accused of doing by Jesus.

They put on long robes with long tassels and tie phylacteries (also called mezuzah) with scripture verses on their foreheads and arms to demonstrate their religiosity in public (v. 5). They disfigured their faces to show that they were fasting (Mt. 6:16). They loved to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that everyone can notice their piety. They carried their alms to the temple treasury in the full public view with trumpets (Mt. 6:2). Then they sat in the front seat of Synagogues and taught. Thus, they put on a beautiful show of themselves on the outside.

But on the inside, they were full of wickedness. They took advantage of the poor, orphans, and widows (v.14). They covet fields and houses and seize them by defrauding their poor owners (v.14, cf. Mic. 2:2). They were filled with covetousness and lust for high positions and salutes in the market places and synagogues. There were rivalries between various religious parties so they did not look eye to eye but taught about the godly living.

In short, Jesus correctly described them as whitewashed tombs. The tombs were whitewashed so that people may not touch them and be unclean. Like the tombs, Scribes and Pharisees looked beautiful on the outside but on the inside, they were filled with the terrible stink of rotting bones and uncleanness. Even though they talk very pious, they were the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. And they were not less vehement than their ancestors in opposing the prophet like John and even Jesus.

This is what Jesus hates when a person puts on a show of religiosity by leaving a double life. On one hand, he performs all the church rituals, reads God’s Word, prays long prayers in public, gives tithes and offerings, teaches and preaches from the Word, and even preaches the gospel. But inside filled with all kinds of uncleanness like pride, jealousy, selfish agenda, bitterness, unforgiving spirit, immorality, the impurity of thoughts and deeds, anger, and like (Gal. 5:19).

God is displeased with the hypocrisy. He wants us to be sincere and godly from our hearts. The ungodliness that takes place inside the heart defiles a person (Mk. 7:20-23). Therefore, as it is said in Prov. 4:23, “Watch over your heart all the time, for from it flows the springs of life.” Let us clean our closets from all the skeletons and replace them with true religion according to Romans 12:2 that says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind and heart.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to live a life of godliness on the inside and outside. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 23: 16-22

THE BLIND GUIDES

This scripture portion is part of the sevenfold woes directed towards the Scribes and Pharisees. Here, Jesus addresses them as blind guides. H.D.M. Spence writes, “They were by profession leaders and guides, and yet by their literalism, legalism, and externalism they lost the true significance of the Scriptures which they taught … The arbitrary distinction between oaths was indeed an instance of moral blindness.”

The Scribes and Pharisees being the guardian and teachers of the Law broke it up in thousands of petty rules to serve their own convenience. As part of the triviality, some oaths were binding that involved the name of God. These oaths could not be broken at any cost. Others were nonbinding and could be broken. Here, the Pharisees made an artificial and arbitrary distinction between the objects connected to God. The temple was not as significant as the gold of the temple. And the gift on the altar was more significant than the altar itself. Therefore, oaths taken on gold and sacrificial gifts could not be broken. What Jesus insists upon is that everything in the temple belongs to God. So, oaths that are made on any of the objects are related to God. Therefore, each oath is binding and must be fulfilled. Barclay correctly asserts, “The whole idea of treating oaths in this way is born of fundamental deceitfulness. The truly religious man will never make a promise with the deliberate intention of evading it … he will never provide himself with a series of escape routes if he finds his promise hard to keep.”

Jesus reiterates in Matthew 5:34, “Do not swear at all, … Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” This should be the principle of God’s people. A spiritual Christian is always aware of God’s presence with him. He knows that God does not look only at the outward appearance and the words we speak but he also looks at our hearts (1 Sam. 16:7). If our “Yes” and “No” are uttered with sincerity, either by mouth verbally or by heart internally, then there is no need to swear by any object or person. In Num. 23:19, the truthfulness of God is emphasized. God does not lie. Whatever he says, he will do. He is the God of truth. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). The Holy Spirit who indwells us is the Spirit of truth (Jn. 16:13). Therefore, we as God’s children must emulate him and be truthful from our hearts that will affect our speech and conduct. We cannot be like chaff that blows with the wind. God does not want lukewarm children. He wants us to be steadfast in our words and works.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to be truthful from our hearts and do what we say and say what we do. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 23: 1-12

FOLLOW THE WORD

In this passage, Jesus indicates the dire contradiction between the words and the works of the scribes and the Pharisees who considered themselves as the guardians and teachers of the law of God but with ulterior motives.

They assume the position of Moses who taught the law to God’s people. Synagogues had stone seats in the front for teachers to seat and teach like Moses. “The Jews spoke of the teacher’s seat as we speak of professor’s chair” (F. F. Bruce). The scribes explained the minutest details of the law (v. 23) and demanded vigorous obedience to them.  They made the yoke of law heavy on God’s people but were “not willing to lift a finger to move them.” They did not bother to help carry the burden, unlike Jesus who made the yoke light and carried our burden himself (Mat. 11:30). They expected the people to obey the law but exempted themselves from obeying it. They were legalistic in making others obey the law.

On the other hand, their only agenda was to enjoy the high positions of honor for prominence in the community. For this purpose, they tied the sections of the law in Phylacteries, small leather boxes containing four passages from the law, all over their bodies and sat in the seat of honor in public celebrations and synagogues. Their only agenda was to receive salutes from the people and be called a “Rabbi” which means a religious teacher and a spiritual leader. That way, they were above the common class Jews and worthy of respect.

Jesus is saying that although the scribes and Pharisees teach with wrong motives to exalt themselves and get honor from the people, they must be respected because they sit in the seat of Moses and hold the office of authority ordained by God. Therefore, God’s people should not follow their wicked conduct but follow their teaching of the principles of the scripture because the scripture is given by God. The law of God is eternal and unchangeable. It is given to have the right relationship with God and to promote good and harmony in the community. There is nothing wrong with the scripture. Therefore, God’s people should practice them without looking at the hypocrisy of the teachers. Poole correctly asserts, “Let not the law of God lose its authority with you because of these wicked men.”

This attitude is found in every age in God’s people. There are leaders of God’s people who teach and preach from God’s Word with an ulterior motive of getting prosperity, prominence, and popularity. But sometimes they live a wicked and unrighteous life. So, we should not look at their conduct and wicked character. We should accept the teaching and preaching of God’s Word if it is taught correctly and for the strengthening of the body of Jesus Christ.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us not to look at the wicked lives of the teachers and preachers of your Word but accept the eternal truth they teach from your Word. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 22:34-40

THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT

The two rival groups (the Sadducees and Pharisees) took turns in trapping Jesus and discrediting him before the people. After Jesus silenced the Sadducees about the resurrection, the Pharisees had their chance to corner Jesus by asking him “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” If Jesus had considered one commandment greater than any other, they could have accused him of neglecting the other commandments of the Law. This would have been considered disrespectful and people would have turned against Jesus.

But Jesus does not fall for the trap. He answered in such a way that the whole Law was included in his answer. This is a two-part answer. In the first part, he reminded them of the verse “Love the Lord your God” (Deut 6:5). God’s people should love the Lord with all their hearts, souls, and minds. This means we should love the Lord with our every faculty, visible and invisible, physical, psychological, and spiritual. A person’s whole being must be focused on loving the Lord, which fulfills the first four commandments of the Law.

In the second part, Jesus quoted from Lev. 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It means that God’s people should love fellow human beings just as they love themselves. They should be concerned about the interest of others just as they are concerned with their own interest and consider others better than themselves (Phil 2:3-4). However, Barclay writes, “It is only when we love God that man becomes lovable … The love of man must be firmly grounded in the love of God.” If we love God, then we also love the image of God in every human being.

Jesus fulfilled both the commandments in his life. He loved his Father (Jn. 15:10, 14:31) and he also loved humans to the extent that he gave his own life for them. He did not look at his own interest but the interest of human beings. The first four commandments are about the love of God. And the next six are about the love of our neighbor. So there are two dimensions: vertical and horizontal. Some believe that they are like the two beams of the cross. The vertical is a symbol of our love and right relationship with God, and the horizontal beam is a symbol of our love and right relationship with human beings. Therefore, let us fulfill the greatest commandment by loving the Lord and fellow humans as Jesus did.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to love you and our fellow human beings with all our heart, soul, and strength. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 22:23-32

GOD OF THE LIVING

Judaism was divided into various sects, and one of them was the Sadducees. Guzik correctly categorizes them as “the ancient version of modern liberal theologians.” They believed in the first five books of the Old Testament with their own convenience. They were aristocrats and belonged to the wealthy and ruling class. They did not believe in the bodily resurrection, life after death, and angels.

In this passage, they are trying to get validation from Jesus for their beliefs in regard to levirate marriage referenced in Deut. 25:5-6. This law was given to protect widows and the lineage of their deceased husbands. Spurgeon believes that this story was repeatedly used to cast ridicule upon the bodily resurrection.

Jesus pointed out that even though the Sadducees were trained in interpreting the scriptures, they did not really know them and made a mistake in the basic beliefs. They ridiculed the belief in the afterlife in heaven as an extension of the family life on earth. Jesus pointed out that it was a mistake because there is no marriage and no sensual relationship between man and woman in heaven.  Guzik is right in saying that the enjoyments and satisfactions of heaven will far surpass what we know on earth (Rev. 21:22-23). So, there are no second-generation Christians in heaven as there is no procreation.

By mentioning Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Jesus revealed that the Pentateuch indeed gave evidence of the resurrection. Barclay writes, “God cannot be the God of dead men and moldering corpses. The living God must be the God of living men.” Even after the patriarchs died, God proclaimed, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Ex. 3:6, 15). After death, they are still alive, and he is still their God. So, there is a life after death that should not be construed in terms of the mundane life.

Our lives and relationships after death will be a completely different kind than what we experience now on earth. Bodily resurrection is a reality. This is stated emphatically by Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:13, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Again he says in vv. 40-42, “There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies … So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable.” Our assurance of life after death rests on faith in the resurrected Jesus. He has promised that he will return to take us into his Kingdom with glorious bodies. Therefore, let us live with a firm conviction in the resurrection and life with God thereafter.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to firmly believe in the bodily resurrection and glorious life after that so that we will enjoy eternity in the presence of the living God and all the saints. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 22:15-22

PAYING THE DUES

Jews were subject to the Roman Empire at this time. The Pharisees opposed such rule, while the Herodians supported it. Therefore there was constant conflict between the two groups. But they were united in one circumstance, which was to trap Jesus by asking him the sly question of “Is it right to pay taxes to Rome?”

They tried to catch Jesus off guard with their false flattery of him. This was the bait. Guzik writes, “They hoped He was insecure or foolish enough to be impressed by their hollow praise.” But Jesus knew them well.

If Jesus responded to the question with “yes”, then the Pharisees would turn against him because he would have been supporting the Roman rulership. Paying taxes to an earthly ruler was to validate the sovereignty of the Roman Empire, which would imply that God is not the only king in the world. This would have been seen as blasphemy for the Jews. They would turn against him.

If Jesus answered “No”, then the Herodians and Romans would consider him a rebel. He would be seen as a threat for provoking the people against the Roman Empire. Thus he could be punished as a criminal. Either answer (“yes” or “no”) trapped Jesus in the hands of either the Pharisees or the Herodians and Romans.

However, seeing through their hypocrisy, Jesus answered them by using a Roman coin on which the image of Caesar was stamped. It was an object lesson. Jesus was saying that whoever we benefit from, we have to pay our dues to them.

The Roman Empire built roads and a water system for its people. They also provided amenities and security from criminals. So it was right for the population to pay taxes to Caesar. At the same time, the people also benefited from religion. The rituals of birth, circumcision, marriage, and death were performed by the priests. The temple authorities provided the means to partake in Passover and various festival celebrations, worship ceremonies, and atonement sacrifices. The teachers of the law taught from the scriptures. Therefore, it was also right for the Jews to pay their dues for the maintenance and ministry of the temple.

Similarly, God’s people today are encouraged to pay their government and their church. The government provides facilities, amenities, and protection from the enemies inside and outside of the nation. The church provides the opportunity for spiritual nurture through worship, fellowship, evangelism and mission, and various activities. The church also caters to the ritualistic needs of baptism, marriage, burial, and stands together in the time of need of the members. Therefore, it is our bounden duty to pay our dues to our government and our church faithfully.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to pay our dues to our government and our church. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 21:33-46

STEWARDSHIP OF VINEYARD

Jesus is using another parable of a vineyard as an object lesson because it was familiar to everyone living in Israel. So, they could relate to the message whenever they saw a vineyard.

In this parable, a landowner planted a vineyard, exclusively for himself. He ensured that the vineyard would be fruitful by building a wall for protection, digging a winepress for production, and erecting a watchtower for precaution. He then entrusted it to farmers who were to harvest the vineyard when the proper time came. The vineyard was the people of Israel as it is mentioned in Isa. 5:7, “The vineyard of the LORD almighty is the house of Israel.”

Interpreting this parable, the farmers are the chief priests and the leaders of Israel (Mt. 21:23). God provided them with everything they needed. God gave them the Law, circumcision, temple, covenant, land, prophets, etc. Then God entrusted the people of Israel to those leaders so that they might be spiritually nurtured.  The objective was to prepare Israel in becoming a blessing to all other nations (Gen. 12:1-3, Isa. 49:6).

However, the keepers of the vineyard (the chief priests and leaders) failed drastically because of their ulterior motives. They wanted to be the owners of the vineyard themselves (Matt. 23:5-7) to gain positions of honor and prominence in the society. When God sent prophets to correct them, the leaders persecuted them and even killed some of them. Then God sent his Son Jesus, but they killed him also. Because they continued to walk in unrighteousness, they failed to produce a fruitful vineyard.

Therefore, now the vineyard is given to other tenants for its nurturing. Two interpretations follow: (1) The church is the vineyard and is entrusted to the various leaders (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). They should cultivate and nurture the church to bear good fruit for the Lord (Jn. 15). (2) The vineyard is the whole of humanity. And the church is entrusted with the gospel to spread across the earth. By bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), the members of the church are supposed to be the living witness of Jesus and bring the people of the world to the Lord. Both interpretations have the same objective: reach the lost world with the gospel.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to be a good steward of the vineyard you have entrusted to us and produce good fruit for your glory. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 21:28-32

TWO KINDS OF OBEDIENCE

Here is a parable of two sons with two different work ethics while in their father’s vineyard. The father calls them separately. So, this is an individual call to each son. This parable projects before us two types of God’s people.

Both the sons belong to the same father and live in the same house. They are young and of working age. Therefore, it was rightful for the father to expect his sons to employ their strength and skills to labor in his vineyard. There is no time for them to sit around in the house being idle. Our heavenly Father also expects us to employ our strength and skills to work in his vineyard instead of just enjoying our Christian life within the walls of the church and our homes. The father asks his sons to work “today.” So, the need is immediate. We too must use every opportunity that each day presents us.

The first son seems to be rude and responds negatively through his words. However, he is sincere at heart and seems to be sensitive. He quickly realizes that his unwillingness to obey would displease his father. His conscience bothers him for showing disrespect to his father. Therefore, even though this son refuses to work by his words, he changes his mind and goes to work in practice.

The second son readily agrees to go and work in the vineyard. He addresses his father as “sir.” So, he seems to be very obedient and respectful through his speech. But he talks one way and acts another. In reality, he does not go out but blatantly disobeys his father by not working.

The parable is addressed to the Jewish leaders. The lesson for them presents the danger of giving God mere lip-service even though with a respectful attitude. Mere words are meaningless. They might say all the right things, but their actions display the opposite. They listened to John but did not put their trust in Jesus. Therefore, in Mat. 15:7-9, we see Jesus address the religious leaders as hypocrites, saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain they worship me.”

This lesson applies to us today. Mere praise and worship without genuine trust in Jesus and doing God’s will in practice is an anathema in the eyes of the Lord. Barclay rightly says writes, “Promises can never take the place of performance, and fine words are never a substitute for fine deeds.” Lip-service must be demonstrated in life-practice.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to express our worship in words and also demonstrate the same in our daily life. Amen. 

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 21:18-22

FRUIT AND FAITH

In this parable, Jesus talked about two things: the barren fig tree in vv. 18-19 and the power of prayer by faith in vv. 20-22.

The message of vv. 18-19 is enigmatic. Therefore, there are several interpretations that arise. In one, the fig tree is compared to the nation of Israel like the vineyard is compared to the people of Israel in Isaiah 5:7. Jesus used the fig tree to convey his message because figs were a staple item in Israel’s diet. Fig trees could be found everywhere in the country. So, people were extremely familiar with them.

Naturally, the fig tree was expected to bear fruits like the vines in the vineyard of Isaiah Ch. 5. But although the fig tree had leaves, there was no fruit present. Some believe that there should have been raw figs on the fig tree around the time of Passover. However, since the tree was not fruitful, there was not much use for the tree. Charles Spurgeon correctly asserts, “The first Adam came to the fig tree for leaves, but the Second Adam looks for figs and found none.” Therefore, Jesus submitted the tree to perennial fruitlessness.

The lesson here is that God chose the nation of Israel to become light and blessing for all the other nations (Isa. 42:6; Gen. 12:1-3). The Jews were even proud to be God’s chosen people. But they failed to fulfill God’s call (Isa. 42:6). Therefore, Jesus was displeased at their mere rituals that bore no fruits.

At present, God’s fig tree is the Church. God has put his hopes upon the church to bear the good fruit of being the light and blessing to a dark world. And we as the members of his church should not disappoint God as Israel did.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree, nature responded to him immediately. By using the withering of the tree, Jesus used an opportunity to teach his disciples the power of asking God in faith. Generally, a green tree can’t wither instantaneously as seen by the fig tree’s speedy demise. But when anything is asked by faith and without doubt, God is able to do it right away no matter how impossible it seems. By using the analogy of a mountain being cast into the sea by the prayer of faith, Jesus communicates that the magnitude of a problem does not matter to God. In a Hebrew thinking, a mountain is the biggest and most solid object one can think of. It was immovable under any circumstances. But if asked by faith in prayer, God is able to move it. The biggest mountains for humans are merely pebbles for God to remove. So, let us present our prayers and petitions to God in complete obedience and faith.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to be fruitful for your glory and offer our prayers in faith. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 21:12-14

HOUSE OF PRAYER AND HEALING

As seen earlier, Jesus was enraged by the exploitation and looting of the needy worshippers in the name of God by the Jewish authorities in the temple. They became a stumbling block for true worshippers.

But he also was enraged because of another reason. Quoting from Isaiah 56:7, Jesus reminded those who gathered there that the temple in Jerusalem was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations.  It means for Gentiles also. This concept went back to the very inception of the temple. King Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple, saying,  “As for a foreigner who has come from a distant land because of your name … prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven … and do whatever the foreigner asks of you so that all the people of the earth may know your name and fear you” (1 Kings 8:41). This was the true purpose of the temple. And this was the real objective of choosing the nation of Israel through Abraham that the Gentiles will know the Lord and be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). God called Israel to be a covenant people and a “light for the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:6).

But many God-fearing Gentiles had to go back without praying or offering sacrifice because of the dishonest activities of God’s people in the temple. They became a stumbling block for the true worshippers. And God’s name was profaned among Gentiles. Jesus was not able to tolerate it.

In v. 14 we witness the blind and the lame coming to Jesus at the temple in hopes that he might heal them. And Jesus did heal them. This is what the ministry of the church supposed to be – a healing agent to those who are in need. Again, God says in Isa. 42:7 that he called Israel “to open the eyes that are blind … to release from the dungeon those who sat in darkness.” They were supposed to be a light for those who are spiritually in darkness. But they themselves became darkness. This should not be the case with the church.

The church should be eager to invite in nonbelievers so that they might see the light of Jesus. In Mark 2:17, “It is not healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This is to be the ministry of the church of Jesus today: to invite the nonbelievers to pray to God and help them find the light of life in Jesus. Also, the church should be a house of prayer and spiritual healing for others. It is crucial that God’s people proclaim the good news to depraved humanity.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to be the light of the world and bring many people to you. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 21:12-13

STUMBLING BLOCK

When Jesus entered the temple of Jerusalem, he was enraged. He was adamant at stopping all the manipulations and corruptions against the genuine worshipers gathered there. John’s gospel recounts that Jesus made a whip and drove out the defilers (Jn. 2:15). Let us see the reasons.

There were four courts in the temple. The innermost sanctuary was the holy of holies reserved for the High Priest. The outermost court was for the Gentiles to pray and offer sacrifices. They could not enter the inner courts of the Jews and priests because doing so ensured the death penalty.

Merchants sold cattle, sheep, and doves in the court of Gentiles  (Jn. 2:14). This created much commotion for the Gentiles who were sincerely trying to pray. The noise of animals and bargaining filled the space and thus made it nearly impossible to pray. On top of this, the merchants charged twenty times more than the market price for the animals. They join hands with the inspector-priests who approved only the animals sold by the merchants. Thus, they allowed economic corruption and exploitation to ensue. So, many Gentiles left without offering prayers because God’s people became a stumbling block to them.

Also, the temple tax was collected only in the high-grade silver shekel of the temple. Worshippers came from many nations. They had to change their currencies into the shekel of the temple. There were money changers who charged an exuberant commission for this. Thus, they looted the worshippers and became a stumbling block to them. Jesus was enraged because the temple was his Father’s house for prayer (Isa. 56:7) but God’s people made it a den of robbers.

Even today, God’s temples and ministries are used to achieve personal ambitions and gain. As Jesus demonstrated in his righteous rage, nothing manipulative or unrighteous should dwell in God’s house. Also, as William Barclay correctly summarizes, “A spirit of bitterness, a spirit of argument, a spirit of strife and judgment can get into a church, which makes worship impossible. Members can become so concerned with their rights and wrongs, their dignities and their prestiges, their practices and their procedures, that in the end, no one can worship God in the atmosphere which is created.”

It is not just the church that is God’s house, but also our bodies. We are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:15-17). The fleshly acts of sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, dissensions, drunkenness, selfish ambitions, and the like defile our “bodily temple” and grieve the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:19-20; Eph. 4:30). Therefore, let us keep our temples clean from all ungodliness to please Jesus and to be an effective witness for him.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to keep our temples clean by getting rid of the unholy things and be a shining light to the needy people. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 21:6-11

EXUBERANCE AT THE ENTRANCE

To celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, it was required that every Jew living within a 20-mile radius was to visit the city. Other than those required, many voluntarily made the pilgrimage from distant lands. It was common for Jerusalem to be surging with over 2 million people during this time of year.

When the large crowds saw Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey as per Zech. 9:9, they became exuberantly joyful. They cut down palm branches and removed their cloaks to create a path for the donkey-riding King to follow. This response is similar to the act of rolling out the red carpet for celebrities and world dignitaries today. It also was a sign of a whole-hearted faith in Jesus Christ and total submission to him. Citing Jehu’s example, D. J. Wiseman correctly asserts, “The act of spreading out the garments was one of recognition, loyalty, and promise of support” (2 Kings 9:13).

The people were also shouting “Hosanna” to Jesus. This is a compound word from hosa and na’.Hosa means to save and na’ is a particle of beseeching. It was specifically addressed to kings in hopes for deliverance and help (2 Samuel 14:42 Kings 6:26). So the people were calling Jesus “King” and beseeching him to save them.

However, Luke mentions in his gospel that while the crowds were elated to see Jesus as King and shouted Hosanna, he himself was weeping for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). God’s people had distorted expectations. Everyone assumed Jesus was a mere political and earthly king ready to save them from the socio-political oppression of the Romans. Rather, he was the ultimate spiritual Messiah to save the people from sin, Satan, and eternal death. Their misconception broke the heart of Jesus.

While it is true that Jesus does indeed save us from various problems ranging from the physical, social, familial, ecclesiastical, psychological, and financial,  Christ first and foremost is the Savior to save us from our spiritual problem: the slavery to sin. Only he is able to remove sin, reconcile us with God, and establish our peace with him (Rom. 5:1). This is the Jesus we must believe, be loyal to, and proclaim to the world.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to have a right perspective of Jesus as the Savior from sin and death and to preach that Jesus to the world. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 21:1-5

ENTRY IN THE FINAL BATTLEGROUND

All throughout his human life, Jesus had encounters with Satan and his agents. Now he is entering the arena for the final and fiercest battle between death and life. Jesus’ apprehension for this battle is seen in the garden of Gethsemane (Lk. 23:23). But the eternity of humanity hinged on the outcome of this battle at the cross. Also, his purpose in coming into this world was to win this battle with sin, Satan, and death. So, he is now entering the battlefield, Jerusalem, from Bethphage which was the outermost border of the city of Jerusalem. From there the entire city was visible.

Jesus entered Jerusalem as Messiah and King. However, he did not declare his Messiahship and kingship outrightly. He demonstrated them as a fulfillment of the prophecy from Zech. 9:9, “Your king comes to you … riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Like the prophets, Jesus acted out the message of the prophecy. Kings and leaders rode donkeys (Jud. 10:4, 12:14; 1 Kgs. 1:33, 2 Sam. 16:2). Donkeys symbolize humility and peace. Jesus riding on a donkey conveyed to the people that he was coming to them as a King in order to bring about peace.  

Jesus used an unbroken colt of an ass. “The fact that the ass had never been ridden before made it especially suitable for sacred purposes like the red heifer upon which a yoke had never come” (W. Barclay. Num. 19:2, cf. 1 Chr. 13:7). The mother ass was brought along to reassure the colt among the noisy crowd.

While riding into Jerusalem, Jesus fully knew that he was going to be arrested, tortured, and crucified by the leaders of the Jews (Mt. 16:21, 17:12, 20:18-19). Yet, he arrived into the city intentionally and unafraid because it was the only way to achieve salvation for humanity, the propitiatory death on the cross. Nothing deterred Jesus from entering the final battleground. His love compelled him to go to a place of unbelievable suffering and gruesome death.

We too are faced with the same enemies in our daily life. The world for us is an arena to fight our battle with sin and Satan. We also find ourselves fearing death at times. But as God’s people, we must remember that since Jesus has conquered them all and we are solidified “in Christ,” we too are victors (1 Cor. 15). In fact, we are more than conquerors (Ps. 46:1; Rom. 8:37). We do not have to fight the battle as Jesus did because we are already on the victory side. Now, by claiming that victory we must continue to live a victorious Christian life in every circumstance. Also, no amount of suffering or persecution should deter us from proclaiming Jesus’ victory over sin, Satan, and death to the world that so desperately needs it.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, we thank you for your battle with and victory over sin, Satan, and death. Help us to claim that victory in our daily life and live as victors and not as victims. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 20:29-34

FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT

First, let us look at the condition of the two blind men. In those days, blindness was considered a curse due to sin (Jn. 9:1-2). Therefore, blind people were dejected by their own families and looked down upon by society. E.g., people rebuked the two blind men when they called upon Jesus (v. 31). The blind people lived in utter darkness. They had to utterly rely on the mercy of others for survival. They had no means of livelihood but to beg on the streets. Having a personal association with the Bartimai Centre for Blind in Ahmedabad, India, this writer can testify that even today, society’s attitude towards the blind has hardly changed. Therefore, the only passion blind people have in life is to see.

When Jesus was going by them with a large crowd, there was a lot of commotion. The two blind men heard about Jesus passing by and shouted to him for mercy. John Gill asserts, “Calling him “Lord,” they were expressing their sense of his deity, dominion, and power.” By addressing him as “Son of David” they recognized him as Messiah, the Savior. When the unsympathetic crowd rebuked them, they shouted even louder. 

Why would they do so? Because they had faith that Jesus could heal them. Doubtless, they heard about Jesus. They might have even heard about his healing of two blind men (Mt. 9.27-29), the demon-possessed blind person (Mt. 12:22), and the report of many miracles Jesus performed including the healing of the blind people (15:30-31). By hearing about Jesus, they had faith in Jesus. 

And Jesus never disappoints anyone who calls upon him in faith. Amid the noisy crowd, Jesus heard their plea for mercy and their request for restoration of sight. He gave them their sight immediately. This he did out of his compassion for them.

Today, humans are suffering from spiritual darkness because the god of this world has blinded their minds. They cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). They are looking for the light to find the way to God. Only Jesus can bring them out of the darkness into light. He proclaims, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the Light of life” (Jn. 8:12). 

But how can the world know about Jesus? Or as Paul writes, “How can they hear without someone telling them?” (Rom. 10:14). That privilege and responsibility are given to us Christians who have experienced the light and the eternal life of Jesus (Mark 16:15). Therefore, God says in 1 Pet. 2:9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (NIV). The question is, are we doing it? Let us examine ourselves during this Lenten season and do the needful.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to tell people about Jesus who is the Light of the world and can heal the spiritual blindness of humanity.  Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 19:16-26

GREATNESS OF SERVANTHOOD

The relationship between the mother of James and John and Jesus is debated. In medieval tradition, she is considered a sister of Jesus’ mother, and James and John cousins of Jesus. However, Mk. 15:40-41 indicates that she followed Jesus and cared for his needs. Being close to Jesus and probably because of the persuasion of her sons, she approached Jesus with a request for the most prominent positions for her two sons in God’s coming kingdom. Unusual as it might seem, this is a natural inclination of the human heart in every age. Most humans, even those who know Jesus personally, suffer from the desire for prominence,  appreciation, praise, and honor, and try to fulfill their desire by acquiring great positions like the Pharisees in Luke 11:43 (v. 26).  

John and James are so much gripped by the desire for the positions that they did not take sincere time to consider what the cup of Jesus contained (Mathew 20:17-19).  They readily agreed to drink his cup. With such cravings, God’s people can go to any extent for the greed of acquiring positions of honor. Almost every time these desires create jealousy, disunity, and dissensions within the body of Christ (v. 24).

Then, Jesus turned the disciples’ attention to his Father. God the Father has pre-ordained the places of honor and it is his prerogative to bestow them upon his loyal servants, for whom they are prepared. Jesus would not appropriate the authority of his Father because he came down from heaven, not to do his own will but the will of his Father (John 6:38). This is one of the marks of true greatness. He was in the very nature of God but emptied himself from the divine prerogatives (Phil 2.1-7).

Jesus spelled out another mark of true greatness: genuine servanthood. He who wants to be great has to relinquish his prominence and become a servant to others. He who wants to be on the top must keep himself at the bottom as a slave. The word slave (Greek doulos), in v. 27  is indicative of a servant of the lowest position doing lowly jobs in the house. A vivid example of this is when Jesus took on the role of a servant when washing his disciples’ feet. Jesus relinquished his divine prerogatives, took the very nature of a slave, doulos, and humbled himself by being obedient to the death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-7). This is the true way to become great in the Kingdom of God for John, James, and any other disciple of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:9-11).

Someone said, “The world may assess a man’s greatness by the number of people whom he controls and who are at his beck and call; or by his intellectual standing and his academic eminence; or by the number of committees of which he is a member; or by the size of his bank balance and the material possessions which he has amassed; but in the assessment of Jesus Christ, these things are irrelevant. His assessment is quite simply – how many people he helped and served.

John Hagee rightly says, “Men’s greatness is not the number of servants he has, but the number of people he serves.” Our servanthood is one of the truest measures of our discipleship and greatness. Only the servanthood mentality undercuts the competition for prominence, helps the body of Christ be fully united, and be focused on the Great Commission.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to get rid of any desire for self-prominence and help us to have a servant heart like our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 19:16-26

RIGHTFUL REWARD

Peter asked Jesus a question, “We have left everything to follow you! What reward  then will there be for us?” (Mat. 19:27) Talking about the Kingdom of God, Jesus gave him an answer and told this parable of a Master who hired workers for his vineyard and rewarded them. In this parable, a few things ought to be noted:

  1. The Master of the house has a plentiful grape harvest and needs workers to gather the produce before the rain arrives. He has so much harvest that he is able to employ all the available workers.
  2. The Master starts employing the workers from early in the morning until the eleventh hour (that is 5:00 p.m.), which is the hour before the end of the workday. He employs all the workers that are available at any time during the day.
  3. The Master employs various kinds of workers. Some came looking for work early in the morning. Some were standing in the marketplace doing nothing. And some wanted work but were unemployed for most of the day. All are accepted to work in his vineyard.
  4. At the end of the day, the Master pays each worker the same amount: a denarius (the usual daily wage) beginning with those who were hired last. Therefore, those who were hired early in the morning grumbled because they had worked more than the last that were hired but still made the same amount of money.

The Master emphasizes his fairness in dealing with each worker because he is not less than fair to the workers hired first but he reserves the right to be more than fair to some as pleases him. He is the one who employs them, and it is his own money that he pays them with. Therefore, the Master has the right to do what he wants with his resources. No one can question the validity of this fact.

This is Jesus’ answer to Peter and also to all those who are working in God’s vineyard regardless of what time they started to work.

When Jesus saw the helpless crowds without a shepherd, he said, “The harvest is plentiful but workers are few” (Mat. 9.27). So, Jesus is looking for reapers to harvest the crop of eternal life (Jn. 4.35). The vineyard is the perishing humanity. Whoever is willing to work in his vineyard to reap the harvest, will be rewarded in heaven and on earth (cf. Mat. 19:28-29).

God deals with us according to who he is, not according to who we are” (Guzik). God rewards every worker fairly because he is a just Master. Therefore, every believer must be satisfied with the reward he or she receives. No believer should be jealous or grumble about the better blessings of another. This attitude keeps God’s church in solidarity with itself and motivates it to work wholeheartedly.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to put our heart and soul in reaping the harvest of the perishing souls and be satisfied with the reward you give us. Amen. 

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 19:16-26

ONLY JESUS

From a combined study of this passage along with Luke 18:18-25 and Mark 10:17-22, a picture emerges of a man who is young, rich, and royal. A few notes should be taken about this individual:

  1. Even though he was a prominent person in society, he was a humble and courteous man. Frequently, this kind of successful and wealthy young people are complacent or arrogant. But this young man was not so. He knelt before Jesus in front of people. And he addressed Jesus respectfully as “good teacher” (Mk. 10).
  2. He had the right desire, came to the right person, and asked the right question, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” He seeks a greater fulfillment in life. He is not only focused on this life but is mindful of the eternal life also.
  3. He was a religious person who mistakenly thought that he followed every Law of God. Jesus quoted only six commandments from the Law. And the rich man claimed to have followed each one of them.
  4. Despite all his prosperity, position, and religiosity, he still was lacking something. He had an insecurity of life after death.
  5. When Jesus asked him to sell all his possessions, give his money to the poor, and follow him in order to get eternal life, the rich man’s face fell (Mk. 10:22). He left quite the opposite as he arrived: saddened and stubborn. He loved his money more than the Master (Mat. 6:21, 24).

This rich young man placed his wealth above Jesus. Charles Spurgeon correctly comments on this passage saying, “The rich man would be saved by works, yet he would not carry out his works to the full of the law’s demand. He failed to observe the spirit both of the second and the first table. He loved not his poor brother as himself; he loved not God in Christ Jesus with all his heart and soul.”

“If a man looks on his possessions as given to him for nothing but his own comfort and convenience, they are a chain which must be broken; if he looks on his possessions as a means to helping others they are his crown” (David Guzik). But that is not what the young man wanted to do. He came to the river of eternal life but left without taking a sip from it because of his love for money and his dependence upon the Law. It is impossible to find God’s promise of eternal life through good works or the accumulation of wealth. Rather God looks for our dependency upon his grace alone and our unconditional obedience to him. Amen.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us not to love the material things of the world but to follow Jesus in complete obedience and become blessings to people. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 18:21-35

FORGIVE TO BE FORGIVEN

David Brown conjectures that since Jesus complemented Peter for his confession and Peter was playing a prominent role among the disciples, he might have become an object of envy and cavils from others. So, Peter asks about forgiving his fellow brother who sins against him (cf. v. 15). Jesus instructs him to forgive innumerable times and tells a parable, which conveys some important aspects of forgiveness.

(1) The divine King is a demanding Master. He is mindful of the servant’s unpayable debt of ten thousand talents (that is over two million dollars). Since it is impossible for the servant to pay off such an enormous debt, the King wants to make up for his loss by selling the servant’s family. Thus, he is a stern Master.

(2) The divine King is a merciful and forgiving Master. When the servant begs for favor, the King readily shows mercy. He forgives him the entire debt knowing that the servant would never be able to pay it off in his entire lifetime.

(3) The divine King expects the same treatment from the forgiven servant to other servants (v.33). While the one servant was forgiven from such a tremendous debt, he is incapable of forgiving another servant who owes him a small amount of only few dollars. The King was merciful to the forgiven servant, but that servant was unmerciful to his fellow servant.  

(4) The divine King cannot tolerate such an attitude from the forgiven servant. Since he is unable to forgive his fellow servant’s trivial debt, the King penalizes him with severe torture.

Here is how we apply the message of the parable to ourselves. No man can possibly offend us to the extent that our sins have offended God. David Guzik sums up the message well, saying, “God, the divine King, has forgiven us such a great debt, that any debt owed to us is absolutely insignificant in comparison. No man can possibly offend me to the extent that my sins have offended God.” So, we have no choice but to forgive fellow church member.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Mat. 6:9-13). After finishing the prayer, Jesus follows up only on one petition from the prayer: forgiving others. In vv. 14-15 Jesus says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” just like in the case of the unforgiving servant.

Therefore, we ought to forgive our brothers and sisters from our heart (Mat. 18:35). By doing so, we let people know that we truly belong to the divine King and reflect his forgiving nature that is in us.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to be merciful to others and forgive their sins against us so that we may receive mercy and forgiveness of our sins from you. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 18:15-20

RECONCILIATION

The NRSV translation conveys the meaning of v. 15 more realistically: “If another member of the church sins against you …” The members of the church are brothers and sisters of Jesus (Heb. 2:11) and each other because they belong to the same body, the body of Christ. But the danger of sinning against one another is still present in speech, attitude, or action. The word “sin,” hamartia in Greek, is used here which indicates the serious offense of “missing the mark or violating God’s Law.”

Aristotle introduced the term hamartia in his Poetics as a device to indicate a tragic flaw or error in the protagonist of a play. Thus, it has probably to do with the character assassination of a noble person by bad-mouthing, gossiping, insulting, looking down upon, etc. If this happens, the one who does it is sinning against the fellow church member. It is a serious offense and affects the unity of the church.

In this case, Jesus charts out a simple guide of four steps to correct such an offense against a brother or sister. All the steps are to be followed not to pass judgment or to award a penalty but to make the person realize his offense in the spirit of love and forgiveness (v.21-22) and to bring him or her back in the right relationship with the members of the church.

First, try to correct the one who is sinning on a personal basis face-to-face without making an issue for the community. It is easier to clarify issues that way. If he or she pays no attention, as a second recourse, take a couple of wise members of the church with you to listen to both sides of the story, help convince the offender about his or her sin and bear witness to the proceedings of the meeting. If he or she continues to be stubborn and does not listen, as a third step, take the matter to the church in order to apply the collective wisdom of the community. Multiple counselors are appreciated in Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, and 24:6.

If the offending brother or sister persistently refuses to listen, as a last resort, treat him or her as a pagan and a tax collector. This may mean that the unrepentant sinner is still to be loved but is to be placed outside the spiritual protection and social fellowship of the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-8). Depravation from the fellowship would help him realize the importance and need for it.

Thus, every effort is to be made in the spirit of love and forgiveness in hopes to bring the offender back into the unity of the church.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, teach us to resolve our interpersonal issues according to your Word and in the spirit of love, forgiveness, and unity. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 17:24-27

GIVING TO GOD’S HOUSE

In order to maintain the temple in Jerusalem, the Israelites were required to pay the temple tax. As per Exodus 30:11-13, an annual temple tax of half a shekel or two drachmas (about two days’ wages) was required from each Jewish male over 20 years of age. Only a few Jews, like the Rabbis and the king’s family members, were exempted from paying this tax. Booths were set up in every city and town to collect the tax from every Jew. The faithful people of God paid the tax honestly and fulfilled their obligation; the unfaithful evaded the tax by giving excuses.

Jesus was persistently under attack from the Jewish leaders. So, this question was directed to Peter with a malefic intention: “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” Jesus’ refusal to pay the tax would have given the scheming Jewish leaders a ground to accuse him.

If members of the king’s family were exempted from the temple tax, Jesus being the Son of God and King, could have refrained from paying it.

However, Jesus chose to pay the temple tax because he did not want to become a stumbling block to God’s people.  The Greek verb skandalizein means to cause someone to stumble. Therefore, Jesus is saying: “We must pay so as not to set a bad example to others. We must not only do our duty, we must go beyond duty, in order that we may show others what they ought to do” (William Barclay).

Jesus not only considered the temple of Jerusalem his Father’s house in mere words (Luke 2.49) but he also supported it by paying the dues in action. And that way, he sets for us who are called to be His faithful disciples, an example to pay our dues to our church faithfully. Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the whole tithe into God’s storehouse …” Paul encourages us by saying in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Let us remember the above instructions, follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ and faithfully give our dues to our church. Amen.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to follow the example of our Lord and pay our dues to our church faithfully, cheerfully, and generously. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 17:14-21

NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE

Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain was glorious. Peter was so enamored by the sight that he wanted to prolong his stay up there and even build three booths at the location. But Jesus still had work to do among the people down below – in reality. Therefore, he had to come down from the glorious experience to the ground reality.

This distinction between the heavenly and earthly is found today among Christians. As God’s people we enjoy the glorious experience of being in his presence through worship and studying the Word. But then, we also need to move out into the world to perform the task of fulfilling the Great Commission. Susanna Wesley prayed, “Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in thy presence.” Real spirituality is to behold the face of the Lord in a closet and also in the nooks and crannies of reality.

But the task of being among people is demanding knowing that the world, the flesh, and the devil constantly assert their influence (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus is the ultimate source of spiritual power and authority. Therefore, a disciple of Jesus needs faith in the Lord in dealing with the issues of this world. A biblical proof of this needed dependence upon Christ is the disciples’ failure at casting out the demon afflicting the young boy. Only when Jesus was called upon, the most impossible things were made possible. The demon left the body and the boy was healed completely.

By an unwavering faith in the Lord, a disciple of Jesus can resolve the difficult situations of life no matter how daunting they might seem, even if like a mountain. William Barclay reminds us, “Faith in the Lord is the instrument which enables man to remove the mountains of difficulty which block their path.”

The gist of the matter is that if a disciple of Jesus has “faith as small as a mustard seed,” no mountain is impossible to be moved. Only by such faith, the disciples would be able to go through the events of the betrayal, death, and ultimately resurrection of their Master (vv. 22-23). This was an impossible thing for them to believe but if they had faith, they would see them happen.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to have a constant fellowship with you in our closets, receive the spiritual strength, and use that strength to reach out to people with the good news of salvation. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 17:1-9

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS 

The life of Jesus does not end in his suffering. Rather, it extends into his glory. While on earth, he demonstrated such glory when he was transfigured in front of his three close confidants on a mountain top. The glorification was a representation of his coming kingdom (Mt. 16.28), and a reminder of the glory he left behind when he was incarnated as a man.

Moses and Elijah appeared with the transfigured Christ. Moses was a deliverer for the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. He was the Law-giver and the one who spoke with God face to face. He held a highly esteemed position in Israel’s history and God’s divine plan. The prophet Elijah had power over nature and death. Before he could physically experience death, he was taken into heaven alive. David Guzik asserts, “The sum of Old Testament revelation came to meet with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration.” Jesus is accompanied by the embodiment of the Law in the person of Moses and the message of the prophets in the figure of Elijah.

However, Moses and Elijah are not equal with Christ. Jesus is the only beloved Son to God the Father; thus he is placed above the two. Moses and Elijah, even with all their achievements, were only the servants of God, not his only begotten Son.

No matter how popular or respected someone can get, even if it is for doing the Lord’s work, that person can never be compared to Jesus. As the Son of the living God, Christ is unique and matchless. No one can be placed on par with him. Therefore, Jesus deserves our special attention and honor.

Now, Jesus is seated at the right of God the Father in his divine glory and sovereignty. Therefore, let us follow the hymn: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face. And the things of the world will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full in his wonderful face every moment so that the material things of the world like power, position, property, prominence, etc.,  will grow dim in the light of his glory and grace. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 16:24-28

DENIAL AND CROSS

These verses describe three requirements for becoming a disciple of Jesus:

  1. A disciple of Jesus must deny himself or herself. The verb used in the verse is in an imperative mood meaning that such a statement is not a mere suggestion but a mandate. And commands are meant to be followed without excuse. To deny oneself is not just to be abstinent from worldly pleasures, nor is it just to give up the entertainment of flesh. Denial of self is to abandon the human “ego.” William Barclay correctly asserts that denial means dethronement of self, the “I,” and enthronement of God, the one and only I AM (italics mine). It is to sacrifice our own interest in order to serve the interest of God, his Kingdom, and his Church at any cost.
  2. A disciple of Jesus must take up his or her cross. After the Christ Event (life, death, burial, and resurrection) the cross gained the significance of suffering and selfless sacrifice for the salvation of humanity. However, during the time of Jesus, the image of the cross embodied shame, rejection, insult, and mockery. It was also the cruelest and most painful form of capital punishment for criminals. That is the cross Jesus bore for the salvation of humanity and mandated it to his disciples to follow.
  3. A disciple of Jesus must be ready to lose his or her life. Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint were speared to death in their prime youth during “Operation Auca,” an attempt to evangelize the blood-thirsty Huaorani tribe of Ecuador. Before his martyrdom, Jim Elliot jotted down in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” That is the true discipleship. Since the horrific deaths of Elliot and his team, the entire tribe has come to the Lord.

These three requirements reveal the fact that discipleship is costly. One has to make a constant sacrifice of his or her self-interest in daily life (italics from Luke 9:23). But then, to be a disciple of Jesus means more than just sharing in his suffering. We get to also share in his glory and receive reward. As Romans 8:17 promises. “We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” When Jesus comes with his glory, his disciples will receive the heavenly rewards (Mt. 16:27).

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so that we may glorify your name and become a blessing to others. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 16:21-23

PROPER PRIORITY

Paul explains the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as Jesus’ death for our sins, burial, and resurrection after the events took place. In Matthew 16:21, Jesus explains the gospel as his vicarious suffering, expiatory death, and glorious resurrection predictively (italics are mine).  Jesus affirmed such facts not as a mere possibility but rather as a necessity. The Greek verb he uses is dei and such a word implies inevitability. It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to suffer, die and rise again. This he must go through for the forgiveness of sin and eternal life for humanity. To bring about peace between God and sinful man, he had to become an atonement in the City of Peace, Jerusalem.  

Right after Jesus was identified as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” by Peter, it would have been shocking for the disciples to hear about his forthcoming death. It would have seemed illogical for the one who had just revealed his Messiahship and divinity to segue into the events of his death. Therefore Peter began to rebuke Jesus attempting to emphatically stop him from going through such a death. And in another unforgettable exchange between the Christ and disciple, Jesus perceiving that Satan is using Peter tells him, “Get behind me, Satan.”   

For the one who was just called “the rock” by Jesus, how could Satan use Peter in rebuking his Master? David Guzik sheds insight into this question, writing, “Peter is a perfect example of how a sincere heart coupled with man’s thinking can often lead to disaster.” Peter, like many other Jews, thought of Jesus as the mundane and political Messiah rather than the spiritual one. Therefore, Satan was able to play upon Peter’s thoughts, doubts, and expectations. When we too set our minds on the earthly things, there is a possibility that Satan can use us. 

At one instance we see Peter’s mind settled on divine things and he is able to make a profound confession: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” The true identity of Jesus is boldly affirmed. But in another instance, we see Peter’s mind trip and fall upon earthly things that distract him from the world of Christ. Satan is able to use Peter in hopes of hindering Christ. Therefore, let us follow the exhortation of Paul in Colossians 1:1-2, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above … Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to keep our mind settled on the things above and not on the earthly things so that we may be used by God and not by Satan. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 16:16-19

CHURCH ON SOLID ROCK

When Jesus’ disciples were clueless about the true identity of Jesus, God the Father revealed it to Peter who rightfully confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The importance of such a confession cannot be overstated. The epithet ‘Christ’ (meaning “Messiah” in Hebrew) was bestowed upon a person who had been specially chosen and consecrated by God to achieve a God assigned task. Towards the end of the Old Testament period, the term was used for God’s ideal and anointed king, one who would deliver God’s people and establish his righteous kingdom (NIV Study notes).

The other epithet that makes up this confession is “Son of the living God,” which conveyed the notion that Jesus carried in Him the character and nature of the living God. The three persons of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) share the same essence. In this confession, there is a rock-like, unchangeable, immutable, and eternal truth.

When Jesus stated, “On this rock, I will build my church,” the church was not formed yet. So, Jesus was prophesying that His church will come into existence and no power would stand against it because it was going to be built on the immovable, immutable, imperishable, and eternal rock Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Thus, Jesus is the foundation and the founder of His church.  

In v. 18, the Greek term petros is used for Peter. The term is a masculine noun and means a boulder, stone, or pebble. But for “rock” the Greek term petra is used. This term is a feminine noun and means a large mass of rock or a large cliff like the one at Caesaria Philippi. This incident was taking place in its vicinity. The confession Peter made was like petra on which the church of Jesus will be built. And those who are members of this body will have no fear of death or hell.  The validity of this truth can be succinctly summed up in the famous lines of Edward Mote’s 1934 hymn, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

After Peter made this confession that truly identified Jesus as Christ and Son of the living God, Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon.” Just as Peter was called blessed because of his genuine confession, so too is everyone else who believes Jesus as the Savior and Son of the living God.

So, let us remember Augustus Toplady’s hymn, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” And let us make Jesus our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to know Jesus as our solid Foundation and the Rock of Ages, and take refuge in Him. Amen.

(For four major interpretations of v. 18, see NIV Study Bible notes)

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 16:13-17

REVELATION OF TRUE IDENTITY

When Jesus asked his disciples the question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, he was gently leading them to the question, “Who do YOU say I am?” because their perception of the identity of Jesus really mattered to him. In response to the first question, the disciples quoted the popular opinion of the people that he was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets as a forerunner of the Christ (Messiah in Hebrew).

John the Baptist confessed that he was the forerunner of the Messiah (John 1:7; Matthew 3:11, 14:2). According to 2 Maccabees 2:1ff, Jeremiah hid the ark of the covenant, tent, and altar of incense in a cave on Mt. Nebo. It was said that before the coming of the Messiah, he would return and take them out to bring God’s glory back in the temple. As per Malachi 4:5, God would send Elijah before the Messiah. By saying ‘one of the prophets’ people could not fix upon the particular person who they thought was risen from the dead to testify of the Messiah (John Gill). When they arrived, the Kingdom of God would be very near.

But they had no answer to Jesus’ question, “But what about YOU? Who do YOU say I am?” Since they had no clue about the real identity of Jesus, they were dumbfounded. Ultimately, God the Father had to reveal the true identity of Jesus through Peter, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. It was essential that the disciples had a glimpse of who Jesus really was in order to be prepared for the Commission they were chosen to fulfill.

Even today Jesus is construed differently by different people. In a survey conducted among the Jews, various answers were given: Jesus was a leader of a band of some Jews, the founder of Christianity, a miracle worker, a rabbi, an itinerant preacher of religious things, challenger of traditions, pious Jew, etc. but nothing more than that. People from other faiths perceive Jesus to be a good guru, a healer and at the most, he is one of the gods or incarnation (avatara). Some believe him to be a prophet and still some as a holy man. They perceive Jesus from the human perspective

But the true identity of Jesus is revealed only by God the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him and surrender their lives to him. Only they know that Jesus is the Son of the living God, the Savior of humanity from sin and death, and the giver of eternal life and the King eternal. The more they have fellowship with Jesus, the more they know him (John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10). Therefore, only they can impart a correct understanding of the identity of Jesus to the world and bring people to the foot of the cross.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to have the right perception of Jesus so that we may declare his true identity as the Savior and Lord to the world. Amen.

Devotional Verse(s): Matthew 16:13-15

PERCEPTION AND PRACTICE

During this Lenten season, we will look at various events that led to the passion and death of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew.

Mathew 16:13 is considered a watershed moment in the gospel. Until that time, Jesus was performing his ministry in and around Galilee in northern Israel. From here onward, Jesus turns his attention to the cross and his death in Jerusalem.

Jesus wanted to know if the disciples would carry on his work of building the Kingdom of God after he left the world. The only way to know whether anyone had a glimpse of who he was and what was his mission, was to ask them a question. If their response showed that they did not grasp his true identity, then the survival of his work on the cross would be jeopardized [W. Barclay]. Therefore, Jesus asked his disciples about who they believed him to be. The place he chose to ask the question was at Caesarea Philippi. It was located about twenty-five miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The city was under the domain of Philip the Tetrarch and had mostly a non-Jewish population.

Caesarea was the birthplace of the great god Pan, the god of nature. There were more than fourteen temples of various deities surrounding the city. In addition, King Herod built a temple of white marble to the godhead of Caesar on the mountain of Caesarea. It was called Panium, located on the top of a mountainous rock. Under it was a great cavern, the origination of the springs of the River Jordan. Later Herod’s son Philip changed the name to Caesarea Philippi. The legends of the gods of Greece and Syria gathered around Caesarea Philippi.

Surrounded by multiple deities and overlooking the mountain cliff of Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked this question to his disciples. He wanted to know before he set out for Jerusalem if they had grasped who he was. Their loyalty was dependent to how they perceived him.

The same question applies to all the disciples of Jesus Christ. Only if we have the right perception of who Jesus is, will we respond to him correctly. Our loyalty and commitment to Jesus depend upon what picture we have of the person of Jesus in our hearts.

During the Roman rule, only those who wholeheartedly considered Jesus as their Lord and Master were able to withstand the severest persecution and eventual martyrdom. Therefore, let us have a right perception of who Jesus is so that we remain loyal as well.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, open our eyes to have a right perception of Jesus and be completely loyal to him. Amen.