Saturday, January 31, 2009

Matthew 12:33-50

This discussion of the tree and its fruit is different from a very similar discussion in chapter seven. In chapter seven he uses this same image to keep us from being deceived by false prophets. Here it is about words and actions of all of us. He gives sobering words about accountability. . . for every idle word!

Nineveh repented at Jonah's preaching. The Queen of the South recognized Solomon's wisdom. They are interesting choices of judges. Jesus is greater than a lot of people. I wonder why he chose Jonah and Solomon?

When the unclean spirit is cast out and then returns, Jesus seems to be referring to the nation, not to an individual. The same is true with the judgment of Jonah and the Queen of the South. It has corporate, not individual.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Matthew 12:1-32

Jesus' conflict over the Sabbath began because the Pharisees were watching him walk through a field. Seems to me they should get a life!

This observation of grain plucking began the argument, then Matthew says, "He went to their synagogue." I expect he went looking for a fight. It was his design to continue this conflict, not theirs, even though they brought the man with the withered hand and intended to fight.

A bruised reed he won't break and a smoldering wick he won't snuff out. I love that!

When accused of casting out demons by Beelzebub Jesus uses four lines of argument to refute them:
  1. "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
  2. Your sons cast out demons. How do they do it?
  3. If I cast out demons by the Holy Spirit then the kingdom of God has come. (This is the heart of the issue).
  4. Bind the strong man, then plunder his house.
How is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit different from speaking against the Son of Man? It seems that their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit here consisted of accusations against the Son of Man.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Matthew 11

John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus. It was his anxiety not theirs that prompted the questions. Jesus' answer is experiential, but experience that connects to Scripture. I think that is THE way to confirm faith, experience connected to the Scriptures, not experience alone or the Scriptures in a vacuum. It is true. . . and it is true for me.

John was so rigorous with his religion they thought he had a demon. Jesus was dismissed because he was open to outsiders. Wisdom is proved by her actions. Wisdom necessarily results in actions that will vindicate misunderstood choices.

These "woes" indicate that Jesus knew what would have happened, not only what does happen or what will happen. This is a whole new dimension of omniscience.

Jesus invites us to follow him because he is gentle and humble. He says this right after he pronounces "Woe" on entire cities! Hmmm.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Matthew 10:26-41

Jesus anticipated how deeply our fear affects us.
  • Fear of opposition.
  • Fear of rejection.
  • Fear of conflict.
  • Fear of going without.
All of these are legitimate fears and Jesus dealt with each one. The antidote to fear is the assurance that it will be worth it. God loves you and will make the wrongs right.

Following Jesus does not automatically equate to having a happy family! Here Jesus puts his finger on one of the most powerful idols in American culture. It is very easy, very, very easy to prioritize your family of Jesus. Jesus doesn't want to take second place, even to your family.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Matthew 10:1-25

Jesus sends out the twelve. Matthew starts by saying, "First, Simon. . ." It is one thing to begin the list, that's emphasis enough, but he makes even more explicit the prominence of Peter by saying, "First".

Jesus is very clear in his instructions, down to the tactics for each home and the way to speak before judges. This is a strong example of the importance Jesus placed on equipping. It was not okay for the disciples to go into these cities and do things any way they wanted!

A disciple should be like his master, not least in that they should be disliked by the same people!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Matthew 9:18-38

I love it that the mourners laughed at Jesus! How ironic!

Jesus stopped before he healed the blind men and asked, "Do you think I'm able to do this?" That would be a good question to ask before I pray. I better be convinced about that! These blind men believed without ever seeing a miracle.

Jesus strictly prohibited them from talking about him, but the spoke immediately. News spread. This is almost the same exact wording as in the preceding paragraph. The summary statements in each paragraph are essentially the same.

At the end of the chapter Jesus has compassion on the crowd. And he tells his disciples WHAT to pray for. There is a very short list of things Jesus tells us to pray for. . . workers for the harvest is a key one.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Matthew 9:1-17

Jesus told the paralytic his sins were forgiven, apparently just so that everyone would know he could do it. The guy didn't actually get up and walk until Jesus told him to! Forgiving his sins didn't make him walk.

The tax collector's booth is mentioned simply to get us to Matthew's house. The take away Jesus leaves with the Scribes and Pharisees is simple, "The strong don't need a doctor, the weak do." How does that inform our outreach? It certainly shaped what Jesus did.

Jesus was questioned about why his disciples weren't as religious as the Pharisees or John's disciples. His answer is that new wine goes in new wineskins. I have heard the "new wineskins" cliche used for everything under the sun. I suspect Jesus means something like Christianity (new wine) needs a new wineskin (preoccupation with Jesus) not the old wineskin of external religion.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Matthew 8:18-34

Jesus proves to be in a class by himself. Who else would send followers away? Conventional wisdom would keep whatever followers one could attract and build from them. Does this say anything about attractional models of ministry?

In Jesus' commentary on calming the storm, he connects lack of courage with lack of faith. If Jesus is on it, the ship will not sink!

After the demoniacs confront Jesus and are transformed. The city confronts Jesus and asks him to leave. They are more comfortable with demons than with Jesus! It appears that economics are driving their faith!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Matthew 8:1-17

How to interact with Jesus 101! What breathtaking encounters!

The leper said, "If you will, you are able."
Jesus said, "I will."
I think Jesus likes to be approached like that. It is never a lack of ability that prevents God from responding to my requests.

The centurion cause Jesus to "marvel" at his faith! That's amazing! What would it take for him to marvel at my faith? What would it take for him to say to me, "As your faith, so it will be to you?" Maybe he already does!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Matthew 7

This comical surgery in the first verses is designed to illustrate perspective. No one could have a log in their eye, it is simply a matter of perspective. The standard (log, yard-stick, or sliver -- depending on your perspective) with which you judge is the same that will be used on you. The point is to be humble and care for your own soul, not to ignore your brother.

I love the "How much more. . ." statements about God. This makes it clear to me that I ask far too little of God! I need to change my assumptions and expect Him to be good to me! I wish that was my default, but it often isn't.

It is one thing for the gate to be narrow, but why does the way need to be hard?

The passage about fruit-bearing is one of the most significant warnings in all the Bible. I've noticed in gardening that bad plants don't bear good fruit. Here Jesus says that's true AND that good trees can't bear bad fruit!

How do people prophesy and do miracles in Jesus' name without truly being his. Seems like bad trees bearing good fruit.

Doing Christ's words is the firm foundation, not just knowing them. Knowing them and not doing them is building on sand.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Matthew 6:19-33

Every Christian needs larger doses of this text, especially in a recession. This is the application of what it means to have God for your Father.
  • You don't have to worry.
  • You don't have to treasure or love things that are fragile.
  • You are free to pursue eternal things which gives life substantial purpose and meaning.
  • Your Father knows what you need before you ask.
  • You can be free from the tyranny of money.
  • You can seek first the kingdom of God and be confident that God will take care of the details.
  • You can take lessons in God's care from birds and flowers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Matthew 6:1-18

Why is secrecy such a value here in prayer and fasting? It must be because God wants to contrast the inward nature of true spirituality with the external show of false spirituality. Jesus is not advocating the neglect of spiritual disciplines; they are still done. They are just done differently. He is advocating care about our motives as we do the spiritual disciplines.

The advice about prayer is, "Don't. . . Don't. . . Do. . ." Don't be like the religous. Don't be like the pagan. Do pray like this, "Our Father..."

The Lord's prayer has interesting form in the Greek language, one we don't have in English, third person imperative. That's where the translations of "LET your will be done." It is different than "Do your will." It shifts to second person imperatives, which you would expect, at "Give us this day..."

Interesting, too, that the bread is for today, not for later.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Matthew 5:21-48

Here Jesus begins a formula that redefines righteousness. The formula is a variation on this theme, "You have heard from old, but I say to you." Jesus drills deeper on righteousness. None of us can say that we've done the law, even the ten commandments, if we've just kept them on the outside.

Some unrelated observations:
  • It is more important to be reconciled to your brother than it is to go to worship. (Matthew 5:23-24).
  • The heart-level standard for adultery is desire. If I desire someone I am not married to, so that they meet a need, real or imagined, in my heart I am crossing the line. If I am looking or thinking in such a way that it will be about me, then I am committing adultery. God made marriage for the satisfaction of my needs and desires. My contemplation of someone else in connection with those desires is sin.
  • It is hard to believe the rabbis taught that it was fine to hate your enemies (Matthew 8:43-44), but Jesus elevated that teaching by requiring love even for those we consider enemies. We are to love those we don't like.
  • If the law was not a high enough standard, Jesus wants us to be perfect, like our Father in heaven is perfect.
  • God's perfection is seen here in the context of loving enemies!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Matthew 5:17-20

The relationship of Jesus to the law is very important, as is the relationship of the law to the believer. What does it mean to fulfill the law? In what respects does he fulfill it? Does that mean it is no longer binding, or that it is? I think their are few hints:
  • The law endures, down to the smallest penstroke.
  • The law makes some difference still because if you break it and teach others to break it, you are, shall we say, demoted. And if you keep it and teach others to keep it you will be great in the kingdom.
  • The law is ineffective for establishing righteousness (Galatians 2:21; Galatians 5:4). You cannot acquire a righteous standing before God by keeping the law. . .unless you outdo the Pharisees and Scribes. . .which won't happen.
I think Jesus fulfilled the law in that he kept it perfectly and met it's moral demands. He was perfectly righteous. He, then, can declare righteous, or pass on his righteousness, to those who believe in him (Romans 3:28). So, the law cannot establish righteousness in a person (Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:11), though it is the perfect revelation of God's righteousness (Romans 7:12-16). As God's perfect revelation, the law makes known sin (Romans 5:13; Romans 5:20). When a believer is identified with Christ in his death, we die to the law and its authority as the benchmark for our righteousness is ended (Romans 7:1-4). The result is not antinomianism, but spiritual fruit.

I think Jesus fulfilled the law in that he was the perfect sacrifice for sin which was prefigured in the sacrifices demanded in the law (Hebrews 9:19-28). Thus, as a fulfillment of the law, Jesus was the one who could forgive sin and establish righteousness.

This was more than I bargained for. While there may be more to say about the role of the law in convicting sinners of sin (Romans 3:19-20), I hope this discussion was helpful.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Matthew 5:1-16

The sermon the mount is the first sermon recorded by Matthew and it begins with the word, "Blessed". It can rightly be translated, "Happy." His ambition in coming is not to make life harder, or less happy, but maximally happy. The irony of this happiness is that it comes in the opposite way that people naturally pursue it. That is evident from the first line, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Happy are those people who do not make much of themselves or feel they need to stand up for themselves, but who are gentle and humble.

Next he tells them they ARE the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is not primarily an exhortation to behave a certain way. It is a statement of fact. It is the explanation for God's plan of lighting and preserving the world. And, then that fact must result in lights shining and salt being salty, otherwise God's program for this world is not going to work.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Matthew 4

I noticed four things about the temptation temptation of Jesus:
  • Satan assumes it is within his power to turn stones to bread with a word! Otherwise, it wasn't much of a temptation.
  • Satan transported Jesus to two unique, physically challenging places, in order to perform his temptation. The physical changes necessary for those temptations would have been very unusual.
  • The first two temptations were identity temptations, "If you are the son of God. . ."
  • Satan believed the glory of the world was his to give Jesus, if Jesus would worship him. Jesus did not challenge him on that point.
Jesus' move to Galilee (Matt. 4:13), prompted by John's imprisonment, was well into his ministry. One of the evidences is the calling of the disciples. What person in their right mind would leave their family, leave their job, and follow a perfect stranger? Probably not even disciples. They must have known him and had some kind of experience with him before he asked them to become fishers of men. There is no substitute for experience with Jesus.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Kerri Wins!

Thank you to those who signed up as followers. I drew straws for the planner give-away. Kerri Corbett was the winner. Congratulations!

For the rest of you, if you don't have something to write in that will record your thoughts, I strongly recommend stopping by Borders or Barnes and Noble and buying a Daily Planner. They'll be 50 - 75% off this time of year.

Here is a picture of how I use the journal. The first section is notes from my reading. The second is my attempt to be observant of my soul and my prayer life, and the third is a record of the day before (since my Quiet Time is first thing in the morning).

Matthew 3

Matthew does not waste any words flattering John. John does not waste any words flattering the pharisees. His simple message is, "Flee the wrath to come." Would anyone today stick around for that message? Was it a better message then than it would be today?

"This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased." What would those words have meant to Jesus, or to any son, on the eve of his great trial in the wilderness? Was that phrase the subject of some of the spiritual meditation that he did in those 40 days? Did his being approved by God have anything to do with his eagerness to resist the enemy of God? What if I believed God accepted me, would that make any difference in my willingness to resist His enemy? Is resistance to temptation strengthened more by the knowledge of approval or by the hope that one can earn approval if he resists?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Matthew 2

One of the great things about reading the New Testament through in a year is that the Bible celebrates Christmas in January. . . just like New Life Church.

Two things stood out to me this time through. First, while Herod had good reason to be suspicious and agitated at the birth of a new king, a rival, the text says the whole town was stirred up. The news of the birth affected the citizens the same way it affected the king. I suspect, however, that they were stirred up for different reasons than Herod. No matter what, the news of a baby king was not quiet news. It leaked out and was one of the factors that led Herod to take such violent action.

Second, the angel told Joseph, twice, take "the child and his mother." This is not the normal way you would refer to a wife and baby. It clearly highlights the child and fades the mother into the background. This is a far cry from the exalted place Mary receives in Catholicism.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Matthew 1

I was struck that the New Testament would begin with a genealogy. Establishing the lineage of Jesus must be important to Matthew. I suspect it is somewhat like the importance of Barack Obama being a U.S. citizen. Does he have a right to his office?

I was also impressed with the rogues who were present in the genealogy. Why didn't God want a squeaky clean pedigree for His Son?

No two names in all the Bible bring more comfort than the two names mentioned in Joseph's vision, Jesus and Immanuel. This boy will save his people from their sins and he will be God with us!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Matthew's Genealogy

I know I wasn't going to start posting until tomorrow, but maybe this will get us off to a rolling start with the first chapter of Matthew.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How To Read

One of the reasons for reading the New Testament slowly in 2009 is to read it with fresh eyes, to read it thoughtfully, to take time time to reflect on what God is saying in the text. The simplest way to read with freshness is to ask questions as you read. Questions reading the Bible fall in three categories:
  • Observation: What is there? For instance, I notice Matthew starts with a genealogy. Are there any important people in it? Who does he start with? What patterns are there in the genealogy? What are the breaks in the pattern? Observation is the key to getting the most out of your reading. The better the your observation, the more enjoyment you will have in your reading. Just like driving to work, reading the New Testament can grow so familiar you don't notice things any more. Slow down. Pay Attention. Observe what is there.
  • Interpretation: What do those things I observed mean? It is very important to consider what they mean before I consider what they mean to me! Many interpretation questions begin with "Why?" For instance, Why would Matthew start the entire New Testament with a genealogy? Why is it structured in sections of 14s? Why does he mention women in it? What is the significance of the introduction to the genealogy?
  • Application: What does this mean to me? Once you notice things, you can find out what they mean and then, and only then, you can ask questions about what they mean to you. For instance, if the genealogy has something to do with establishing Jesus' right to the throne of Israel. Application questions might go like this, In what ways does Jesus exercise his kingly right in my life? How should he be king, where he isn't yet? Or, I might apply this another way. If some of the characters in the genealogy were unsavory, yet were shown sufficient grace to have been redeemed into the family line of Jesus, can I expect my unsavoriness to be redeemed, too?
I don't have high expectations for this blog post. I only hope it will slow you down as you read. If you'll slow down and ask questions, you'll enjoy it so much more. . . We start in earnest on Monday!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Here's the Plan

Beginning next Monday, January 12, I will begin posting each day some thoughts, questions, insights or thoughts from each chapter. I am currently reading very slowly, so I can catch up with a one-chapter-per-day post. I would love you to share comments on each chapter, or on one verse in each chapter, with the rest of us.

In the meantime, what can you do?
  • Read slowly like I am. Begin to develop the habit of sitting down each day at a certain time in a designated place and spending time with the Lord. Take notes so you can share them.
  • Plan to receive blog updates with some RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader. You can keep checking back here to see if it has been updated (the hard way) or you can have a service notify you if it's been updated (the easy way, RSS). Here are my suggestions:
  • Sign up as a "follower" of this blog. (Point of clarification -- this is what enters you in the drawing for the daily planner. Though several people have indicated an interest in reading the NT, only a couple have signed up to follow). Simply click the link on the left.
  • If you are on Facebook, go to my profile and find the "Notes" tab and subscribe to notes from me.
  • Use the buttons to the left called Subscribe. These buttons will create an RSS feed for you. I'm not sure what "follower" does, other than help build a community of Bible readers.
Please let me know how the alternatives work for you. Thank you. I'm looking forward to reading together.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Getting Started, Part 2

What do you need to get started? Well. . . a New Testament. I also recommend that you purchase a daily planner.

A daily planner serves two purposes. It gives you a place to write prayer requests and observations from your reading. More importantly, though, I've found that a daily planner holds me accountable for reading every day. Otherwise, I have a blank page each time I miss.

I have one daily planner I will give in a drawing to one of the first ten people to sign up as followers of this blog. If we don't have 10 sign-ups before next Sunday, I'll draw from those who are signed up by then.

I'll post more on becoming follower and RSS feeds next week.

Getting Started with Bible Reading

My plan this year is to read through the New Testament again. I hope to recruit as many people to join me as will be helped by the experience. Why would we read through the New Testament and use this blog as a tool? Here are a few reasons:
  • The Bible was meant to be read in a community. A blog is a way of developing a community and reading at home at the same time! I wonder if God had this in mind . . . Comments will be an easy way for everyone to contribute to the discussion.
  • The pace should be easy enough. There are 260 chapters and still 360 more days in the year. A chapter a day will more than cover the New Testament with lots of grace for missing. It will take only 22 verses per day to read through the whole thing. More New Testament stats are here.
  • There is no substitute for reading the Bible. God promises great things to those who read, meditate on and obey His word. No promises are sweeter than Psalm 1:2.
I hope you will join me for this journey.