My dear child,
In my inspired word, the Bible, the four clearest portraits of my Son are called gospels, which means “good news.” The first three—Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are often called “synoptic” gospels, because there are many similarities between them, even though I inspired the authors to each tell the story in their own way. Synoptic means “same view.” Matthew’s telling of my Son’s story is the most “Jewish” of the gospel accounts, resonating with the nation of Israel.
(1) Matthew began telling my Son’s story not with his birth, but with his lineage. Every person’s story starts well before they were ever born. Your history shapes who you become, which was also true about my Son. Right away, I want you to see two things. First, Jesus was called the “son of David.” David was Israel’s most well-known king. My people understood that the eternal king would be a product of David’s line. Second, he was also called the “son of Abraham,” harkening back to a time well before David. I made a promise to Abraham that the whole world would be blessed through him.
(2-17) Matthew wrote down 42 generations—14 + 14 + 14—all the way back to Abraham. The Jewish people knew the names in the genealogy because they grew up hearing the old stories about me. They knew about Isaac, Abraham’s son of promise. They knew about Isaac’s son Jacob, who in turn had 12 sons. They knew about Judah and Perez, Zerah and Hezron, Ram and Aminidab, Nashan and Salmon, Boaz, Obed, and Jesse, David’s father. They knew the stories about Solomon, Rehaboam, Abijah, Asaph, Jehosephat, Joram, and Uzziah. They had heard of Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manassah, Amos, Josiah, and Jeconiah. They knew that their people had been forced to go to Babylon, but that the kingly line continued from Jeconiah to Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Achim, Eliud, Eleazer, Matthan, Jacob, and finally Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the anticipated Messiah. Fourteen and fourteen and fourteen. You can read all about these people in the Old Testament.
(18-19) It is from my servant Matthew, together with Luke, that you learn many of the details about Christmas, the celebration of my Son’s birth. Jesus’s mother Mary, a young teenager, was engaged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph. Their betrothal was thrown into question when Mary was found to be pregnant, even though it was by my Holy Spirit. My angel Gabriel had already explained to Mary how she would become pregnant, but I had not yet revealed my plan to Joseph. Like most people, he could never believe that divine conception was possible. All he knew was that the child was not his, because they had not been intimate so he decided to break off the engagement. Joseph was a godly man and despite what he believed to be a monstrous betrayal, he sought to honor her dignity. He would break it off quietly so that she would not be shamed any further.
(20-21) Joseph was in turmoil, his spirit pulled in a thousand directions. One of my angels appeared to him in a dream to reveal my plan and settle his heart. He said, “Joseph, David’s son, do not be afraid to take Mary as your bride. She has not been unfaithful. Her child is from the Holy Spirit. Stay with her, and when she bears a Son, I want you to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Names were chosen for meaning, and Jesus’s name was no different. “Jesus” was a variant of “Yeshua,” which means “God saves.”
(22-23) All of these developments were in fulfillment of my eternal plan, which had been prophesied many generations before. Isaiah predicted this very event:
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.
and they shall call his name Immanuel.
Immanuel means “God with us.” Maybe you are confused by this passage and why there are two different names. In just a few lines, you have learned that my Son would be named Jesus and then you read that he was to be called Immanuel. Jesus was the name used of him during his earthly life, but Immanuel was no less true of him. It used to be more common for people to have a description connected with their name, for example, “King Richard the Lionhearted,” whose given name was Richard, but who was also known to be brave. Perhaps it will help you to think of it this way: my Son was Jesus the Immanuel. It is equally true that he is your savior and that he never leaves you.
(24-25) Joseph was convinced. He took Mary as his wife, but did not have a sexual relationship with her until after my Son’s birth. As I had directed, they named him Jesus.
(1-3) After Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, David’s town, he was visited by wise men from the east. Many myths have developed about this event, but they did not come from my word. For example, I never said there were only three wise men, though three gifts were named. I also never said that they arrived when Jesus was a newborn baby. Sometimes, these myths find their way into the cultural narrative and can distract you from the story. What is important to remember is that there were wise men and that they came from the east.
When they arrived, the wise men went first to Herod the Great. Herod had been the Roman-appointed ruler of the Jews for several decades. He had a reputation for violence, and as he aged, he became paranoid. The wise men told Herod that their study of the stars had pointed them toward Judea and they were on a quest to find the child. Herod outwardly blessed them, telling them that when they found the child, they should return and tell him so that he could also go and worship. The magi had referred to the child as “King of the Jews,” which was a title Herod had adopted for himself. Needless to say, Herod was deeply bothered by the news of my Son’s arrival, worried that another king could disrupt his political reign and influence amongst the Jewish leaders.
(4-6) Herod brought together all of the students of my word, asking them about messianic prophecies. They told him that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. My prophet Micah had written:
You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah
are by no means least in Judah
for a ruler shall come from you
a shepherd for my people.
(7-8) Herod continued gathering information about my word and my Son. He asked the wise men when they had first seen the star. He sent them away with his blessing, telling them that he also wanted to worship this king. In truth, he worshipped no one but himself.
(9-11) When they left the king’s presence, they journeyed on, following the star. I made it clear when they were to stop, because the star had come to rest. Even seeing the star, they were filled with joy that overflowed into worship. They went into Mary and Joseph’s house and fell upon their knees offering praise and thanksgiving. A true encounter with my Son is never boring. He leaves you breathless with joy and wonder. They had brought many gifts of great value—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—though the reward they received was infinitely greater, an encounter with my Son.
(12-15) Knowing Herod’s evil motives, I warned these men in a dream to go back home a different way. I also sent my angel back to Joseph, warning him of Herod’s evil intent to kill my Son. I instructed him to take Mary and Jesus and go to Egypt, the very place from which I had once delivered my people. Herod was about to go on a warpath, seeking to kill my Son. Joseph didn’t dawdle. He took Mary and Jesus and they left, even though it was nighttime. They stayed in Egypt until Herod the Great had died before returning to Nazareth, fulfilling another prophecy, “Out of Egypt, I called my Son.”
(16-18) In the meantime, learning that he had been deceived by the wise men, Herod flew into a rage. He sent his soldiers to Bethlehem and the surrounding towns, commanding them to kill all of the baby boys, two years old and younger, fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy:
A voice was heard in Ramah
weeping and painful lament
mother grieving over child
inconsolable, in the face of death.
(19-21) After Herod died, I once more sent an angel to Joseph in a dream, who said, “I want you to take Mary and Jesus and return from exile, for the man who sought his life has died.” So they left Egypt and returned to Israel.
(22-23) Joseph remained nervous. Herod was gone, but he was replaced by his son Archelaus, who also hated the Jews. A fourth time, I spoke to Joseph in his dreams. Rather than Bethlehem in Judea, I sent Joseph, Mary, and Jesus far north to the region of Galilee, to a town called Nazareth, just as my prophets had predicted.
(1-2) You cannot know my Son’s story without also knowing about his cousin John, “the baptizer.” He proclaimed my word far from the city, yet even so, the crowds came to find him. He saw the hypocrisy among my people and exhorted them to turn back to me. People often associate the word “repent” with my servant, John. He invited them to be true kingdom citizens, wanting them to see that the kingdom was not some far off place or time, but was present among them.
(3) My prophet Isaiah anticipated John, describing him as “a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the Lord’s way, by smoothing out the path.”
(4) John was a wild man. His jacket was made from camel’s hair and he wore a leather belt, signs that he was certainly not a part of the religious elite. He ate what he could find in the wild—locusts and wild honey.
(5) A person so interesting—verbally and visually—provoked the interest of the people and the crowds made their way to him. His message cut them to their hearts, and many were convicted of their unrighteousness. As a symbol of their confession and turning to new ways, many were baptized by John in the Jordan River.
(6-10) However, it was not only the broken and contrite who came to John, it was also the religious elite. In John’s day the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming out to see him. These two groups were each certain that they understood me correctly. I gave John eyes to see through their self-righteous veneer. Unflinchingly, he said to them, “You bunch of snakes, who warned you about fleeing from the wrath that is to come? If you seek to repent, then truly repent. Let the change be reflected in how you live. Your status with God has nothing to do with your pedigree. Simply because you are ‘Abraham’s offspring’ doesn’t mean a thing. God could turn rocks into Abraham’s children if he wanted. Change is happening right now as we speak. Barren trees are useful for nothing but firewood.”
(11-12) John continued, “I bury you in the waters of baptism as a sign of turning away from those old ways, but listen, a man is coming who is no mere symbol, but is true Life. His baptism comes from the fires of heaven and from God’s very Spirit. Compared with him, I am nothing, not even worthy to be his slave.” John had heard repeatedly from his parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, about his cousin, who would be the Savior of the world, yet not even John had a full picture of my Son’s purposes. He envisioned a warrior king who would come to divide the repentant from the unrepentant and the fruit from the fuel. Like most stories told about my Son, even John’s expectations did not tell the whole story.
(13-15) My Son went from Galilee to the Jordan River to see John and to be baptized by him. Like John, you may find yourself wondering why Jesus, sinless and without flaw, would need to enter the waters of baptism. John explained that he should be baptized by Jesus, not vice versa, yet Jesus insisted. “Let it be. It is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” In his baptism, Jesus identified with you and with every image bearer. His baptism was also a reminder of how I brought my people through the waters in the exodus, recalling the promise that I am a God who delivers my people. Jesus goes with you through death and into life.
(16-17) When John baptized him, he followed the practice of putting him down into the water and raising him back up. In that glorious moment, my Holy Spirit came down out of the heavens and rested upon Jesus. I looked upon him with love in my eyes and said, “This is my beloved Son, and I am well pleased with him.”
Beloved, do not simply bounce over this verse. One of the most precious truths you can come to know is that you are joined with my Son. You are in him and he is in you. Theologians call this “union with Christ.” Allow your baptism to remind you of this reality. Oh, dear one, if you are able to get ahold of this doctrine, you will know such freedom and comfort. I want you to know this: When I said those words to my Son, I say them to you too. You are my beloved child. I am so pleased that you are in my family.
(1) After his baptism, my Son was led into the wilderness by my Spirit, where he would face the devil’s temptations. There are a couple of details I don’t want you to miss. First, notice the timing of the desert experience. It happened right after his baptism when I reminded him of his belovedness. Seasons of great difficulty and pain often follow seasons of great blessing. For my Son, and for you, remembering who you are, my beloved child, is the key to keeping the light on in the darkness. Second, the devil did not lure my Son into the wilderness, my Spirit led him there. In order for you to grow in wisdom and maturity, difficulties may be necessary. A trouble-free life is an illusion, and does nothing to foster dependence upon me. My servant C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” To be clear, I am no sadist, but I will allow whatever is necessary to increase your desire for me.
(2-4) Jesus had gone 40 days and nights without food and water. Just as his baptism mirrored the exodus, so did his time in the desert. Matthew wrote matter-of-factly that at the end of the 40 days, “He was hungry.” Physical nourishment was not just desire, but necessity. Satan came to Jesus with his first temptation: “If you are actually God’s Son, turn these stones to bread.” I know how easy it is for you to gloss over details, perhaps thinking, “Well, Jesus was God,” but he was also fully human. His physical needs were no different from your own. He was aware not only of his desire for food, but of the physical risk of not eating. People who do not eat, die. Yet Jesus was also aware of a higher reality, union with me. He recalled my law, and told the tempter that true life came not from full bellies, but from feeding upon my word. I want you to remember what I had just told him at his baptism: That he was my beloved child and that I was so pleased with him. He clung to those words in the face of temptation.
(5-7) Next, the devil brought him to the top of the temple in Jerusalem and tempted him, saying “He will command his angels when it comes to you. They will catch you so that you do not break upon the stone.” The devil had switched tactics. He attempted to use my own words from Psalm 91 to tempt my Son to turn from my will. Evil people commonly twist my words so that they imply the opposite. Bible words used for unrighteous ends are evil. Jesus remained stalwart, because his understanding of my will was flawless. He retorted, quoting Psalm 91 back to the devil, “It also says ‘don’t put God to the test.’”
(8-10) The devil had one final temptation. He took Jesus to a high mountain where he could see every worldly kingdom, filled with treasure, power, and glory. He said to my Son, “Worship me and all of this is yours.” Satan tempts in so many ways. When one way does not work, he will slither to another approach. I, however, am unchanging. Jesus’s final words to Satan during this desert experience were, “Get out, Satan. I will never worship you or your false gifts. God’s word says that it is only God who should be worshipped and served. I am all about pleasing him.”
(11) Finally, the devil left him alone, but I didn’t. I sent my angels to minister to him and provide for his needs.
(12-16) As my Son began his formal ministry, he heard that his cousin John had been arrested. He went to the region of Galilee and was again in Nazareth, the town where he grew up. He moved about 20 miles from there to Capernaum, a city on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. This was once the region belonging to Jacob’s sons, Zebulun and Naphtali. During the Assyrian reign, my people were cruelly oppressed there. But my servant Isaiah anticipated that the darkness of oppression would one day be swept away by the light of hope. My Son was that Light.
(17) He began teaching in the region, telling the people to repent. Sometimes, those who claim to know me believe that my Son was passive and soft on sin. It was quite the opposite. He called people away from external righteousness to internal wholeness and holiness. Kingdom citizens begin to turn away from the old ways of living to my way of living. When my Son told his hearers that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, he did not mean that it was coming someday soon, but that it was there among them just as it is among you right now. Turn, as often as you must from the ways of the world to the ways of my Son.
(18-22) Jesus would often go out and walk along the beach. Saints throughout the centuries have known the serenity of the sand comingled with the rhythmic power of the waves crashing upon the shoreline. As Jesus was walking, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing their nets into the sea. He called out to them, “Follow me. You can fish for men instead.” They didn’t even pack up their nets, they just followed Jesus. The three kept walking when Jesus spotted two more brothers, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They had just finished fishing with their father, and were repairing their nets when Jesus called them. Like Simon and Andrew, they left the nets and followed.
(23-25) This ragtag band of brothers traveled around Galilee and Jesus would teach in the synagogues, the local gathering places of my people. He not only taught the people, but healed them of their physical pains and emotional brokenness wherever he went. Although Galilee was relatively small—it had no large cities—word of my Son spread like wild fire. His message and method, enlivened by my Holy Spirit, were fresh wind. Those who heard of him risked hoping that he could restore wholeness. They came with every sort of malady—physical pain, diseases, demon oppression, epilepsy, and paralysis—hoping for my Son’s healing. Unsurprisingly, in a short time, it was not only Simon, Andrew, James, and John who followed him, but large crowds from all over began to tag along, listening to his teaching and witnessing his miracles.
(1-2) My Son took the opportunity to teach the crowds who had gathered around him. Sitting down on the hillside, he preached the most famous sermon ever delivered. He began by telling them who the truly blessed people are. He said:
(3) “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” When you recognize that you bring nothing to the table other than being my beloved child, you are in exactly the right place for inheriting heaven. I know that you want to allow your strengths and gifts to commend you, but they do nothing to secure your place with me.
(4) Then he said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” There will be times when you are filled with grief because of loss, sin, and incompleteness. You may weep over losses you have endured, pains you have caused, or a general sense that this world is not as it should be. In your mourning, I want you to know that my Spirit is always with you, in you. I want you to know my embrace, especially in painful times.
(5) “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” The kingdom my Son ushered in was and is and upside down kingdom. Worldly powers and dynamic leaders want you to believe that true life is gained by acquisition, control, and looking out for yourself first. Not so. Those who possess a humble, gentle spirit are the people of true influence. When you engage others with gentleness, you make them feel loved and welcomed, and what an inheritance that is!
(6) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” When you have no greater desire than to glorify me by living the way I have called you to live, I will fulfill your desire. But I want you always to seek me directly. It is so hard for people to sift through the competing messages about what constitutes righteousness. I look at the ways my followers have distorted holiness and it is no wonder why it is confusing. Some would have you believe that keeping away from alcohol and R-rated movies is the pinnacle of righteousness. For some, it is church attendance, and for others, it is doing missions work. I know it is easy to get lost in the morass of “secondary holiness,” but I want you to know that my principle call on your life is to become love. When you seek to know how to love well—me, others, and yourself, indeed all of creation—I will honor and satisfy that desire.
(7) “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” When you act mercifully, you give others what they do not deserve. The mercy you show is the fruit of my mercy toward you. In my Son, Jesus, I am infinitely merciful. Allow my compassion to enliven how you live and relate with others.
(8) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” So many of my followers have taken Jesus’s words here to mean that you should work hard for holiness, but that interpretation misses my Son’s deeper point. Striving to become like my Son is certainly wise, but I want you to see that you cannot achieve your own purity; it is granted by me. In my Son, you already possess purity of heart. You are wholehearted. When you recognize the wholeness you already possess, you will have eyes to see that I have been with you all the time.
(9) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Live from your wholeheartedness, allowing that mindset, or perhaps heart-set, to flow out into the world around you, becoming an “ambassador of shalom.” Promote peace and wholeness wherever you go—in your home, community, church, and the world. Help others to discover their wholeness. To be a peacemaker is not simply to avoid conflict, but to promote shalom. Those who do so are living as my daughters and sons.
(10) “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” These beatitudes are not meant to be isolated from one another; they are connected. In verse 8, you learned that you will see me in your wholeheartedness. In verse 9, I told you to become an ambassador of shalom. Now, in verse 10, my Son wants you to know that when shalom becomes your purpose, you will face a lot of pushback. In Jesus’s day, most of the criticisms came from religious people. It is no different today. Living out of your wholeness in my Son and inviting others to do the same is sure to ruffle the feathers of many religious people. When that happens, I want you to remember that you are doing true kingdom work.
(11-12) Some people will even speak badly about you. My Son said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil falsely against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” So much evil remains in the world. You see it every day. People will speak evil about you, they will attack you, and they will lie about you. They did it to my Son, and they will do it to you. Rejoice. You are on the right path.
(13) One of the most important ways Jesus communicated was to use familiar symbols and images to help people grasp ideas they did not understand. You, child, are the “salt of the earth.” In this world, you provide flavoring by living creatively and beautifully. People are drawn to beauty because it reflects my character. Too many of my followers have buried their senses of wonder and beauty. There is nothing intriguing about a bland life. When you have lost that divine spark, you will be largely ignored in the world.
(14-16) You are also a “light of the world.” A person whose life is imbued with the light of my Holy Spirit cannot be disguised. Don’t shy away from this luminescence. Sometimes, my followers want to shield others from the light, not wanting to offend them or afraid of what others might think. Child, Light it up! Let the beauty and radiance of my Holy Spirit shine out of you. When people truly see that light, they will glorify me.
(17-19) Christians have a confusing relationship with my law. So many of them ask whether they are supposed to follow it and, if they do, they want to know which parts I expect them to follow. My Son explained to his listeners that he did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. Nothing could change unless my Son accomplished his mission, which ushered in the new covenant. You can read about the new covenant in my prophet Jeremiah’s writings. Sometimes, people proclaim that my law no longer matters, but that is not at all true. Telling people to ignore my law runs counter to my kingdom, while seeking to live from a true understanding of my law and encouraging others to do the same is true kingdom activity.
(20) Wrongly understood, verse 20 might leave you feeling hopeless. Jesus told his hearers that their holiness would need to exceed the holiness of the law scholars and the Pharisees. These people dedicated themselves to knowing and following my law word for word. They knew my words better than you do. They paid a lot more attention to the law than you ever will. So how could my Son say that your righteousness would need to exceed theirs in order to enter my kingdom?
First, living according to my word is much more of a heart issue than a behavior issue. I see your heart and I know your motives, both the good and the bad. Second, I want you to know that regardless of how hard you try, you will never reach the top of the ladder of righteousness on your own. It is my Son’s perfect righteousness and not yours that justifies you in my sight. Cling to him.
(21-22) Jesus began to talk about my moral law, which I delivered to Moses at Mount Sinai. In my 6th commandment, I instructed my people not to murder, but it is too easy to read that and think to yourself, “Thank goodness. I’ve never murdered anyone,” but murder is merely the behavioral fruit of a poisoned root growing in your heart. The heart behind murder begins so much earlier, in anger. Unrighteous anger convicts you. When you throw insults at others, the law convicts you. When you engage in name calling, it is worthy of hell.
(23-26) I want you to know how much I value relationship. If you are sitting in church and you remember that you harmed a friend with words or actions, it is better for you to get up and leave and go work on that relationship. Seek reconciliation. Then come back; I’ll be waiting. Loving one another is more important than religious activity. Don’t delay. Bitter seeds grow quickly and they become harder and harder to uproot. If you wait too long, you will be tried and convicted in their minds, and you will find yourself in the prison of relational sin. You will find it to be a life sentence if you cannot meet their expectations.
(27-28) The people knew the seventh commandment as well—don’t commit adultery—yet my Son once again turned the command inward. The act of committing adultery starts long before a person falls into bed with a lover. Indeed, the seeds are planted when you look at another person with unholy sexual desire. Your intent convicts you.
(29-30) Jesus went on hyperbolically. He told his listeners that if their eyes caused them to sin, to go ahead and gouge them out. If their hands were the culprit, they should cut them off, because it would be better for these parts to be destroyed than the whole person. But, my dear child, pay attention: Jesus has been making it clear that sin does not originate with lustful eyes or angry hands, it starts in the heart. It is not your hands or eyes that need replacement; you need a new heart.
(31-32) My Son also spoke out against the divorce culture of the time. If a man grew tired of his wife, he could easily write her a “certificate of divorce,” ending the marriage and freeing her to marry again, but more often than not, doing so left her vulnerable. Jesus suggested that unless the wife broke the marital covenant by committing adultery, sending her away and taking a new bride was to commit adultery.
(33-37) My Son also challenged the oath taking culture. The religious people understood the severely binding nature of taking an oath. A person who made a promise was expected to seal that promise by swearing to uphold it by heaven or by earth. Children in your time have been fond of sealing their promises by “swearing on a stack of Bibles” or “swearing on their mother’s grave.” Such gestures are not only unnecessary, they are also ineffective. Remember Jesus was talking about behavior versus heart, the internal versus the external. When your heart is turned toward me, you will be a person of your word. Whether you say yes or no, honor your word. The consistency of your character flows from your wholeness in me.
(38-42) Many people throughout the history of humanity have operated according to lex talonis, the law of retaliation. In my Old Testament law, handed down through Moses, I told them to practice lex talonis, not so that they would be vengeful, but rather, that they would not respond inequitably. For example, I did not want my people killing an entire family in response to their child being injured. Even so, people have often used lex talonis as permission for cruelty. Beloved, it ought not be so. My Son called for non-retribution. He told his listeners that if they were to get slapped, to turn the other side too. If someone were to steal their coat, they should offer up their shirt too. If forced to go one mile, they should go two. Jesus is all about mercy and generosity, rather than making sure you “get yours.”
(43-45) Love defines my essence and I want it to define yours too. My followers often do really well at loving people who look like they do, think like they do, and live like they do, choosing to ignore, criticize, or attack those who live differently. Conservatives attacking liberals, Christians dishonoring Muslims, pro-choice advocates smearing pro-life groups. All of that and more happens every single day, image bearers hating other image bearers. Listen, hatred is evil. Love those who live differently than you do. Even if they continue to lie about you, attack you, and seek to tear you down, love them. Pray for them. You know that I am love and if you are truly my child, love is what defines you too. Don’t you know that I made the sunshine and rain for everyone and not just for those who think like you?
(46-47) Loving people who agree with you in everything is the easiest thing in the world. Even criminals can love likeminded people. Kindness for your kindred is a natural response. My Son’s love, the love you are invited into, is supernatural.
(48) You might find verse 48 discouraging or even frightening. Most modern Bible translators render Jesus’s words here as “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” When you read it that way, my child, what stirs in you? Do you feel comforted? Do you envision measuring up not only to the best Christian you know, but to my perfect holiness, as comforting? Listen, I know all of your imperfections. You will never be perfect. It is impossible. Only one person has ever attained moral perfection, my Son Jesus.
In truth, the word that translators choose to render as “perfect,” the Greek word telios, is better rendered as “whole” or “complete.” In other words, I am not calling you to a life of moral perfection, which deals with behavior, I am calling you into wholeness. My desire is that you might turn from your fragmented self to the wholeness that is found only in me.
(1) My child, don’t put your religiosity on display. It has been a perennial issue that my people advertise their good deeds. In your world, which is so saturated with social media, every day people share videos drawing attention to their own charitable acts. Such self-promotion tells me that you are less interested in loving well than in being honored. Drawing attention to your own good works is self-centered. Your reward will be the number of likes you receive, but I won’t reward self-centeredness.
(2-4) To be sure, I want you to be charitable. Charity reflects my heart. But don’t take out an advertisement to tell people how charitable you are. You don’t need to post it on the internet. This world, and even the church, is filled with self-celebratory people, who are more concerned about their own press than loving others. Their publicity will be reward enough. If it were possible, it would be the most beneficial to keep your charity even from yourself, because the temptation to draw attention to yourself is so great. My reward is for those things done in secret with great love.
(5-6) The same is true with prayers. Sometimes, people make a performance out of praying. Don’t pray like you are auditioning for a Broadway show, loudly announcing yourself, using flowery words and religious jargon, attempting to convince others of how close you are to me and how religious you are. In reality, these performances have the effect of belittling your hearers. When you elevate yourself, you move others lower. The only reward for these performances is the audience you receive.
When you pray, come and talk to me on your own. Value our relationship. Prayer isn’t about checking off all of the right religious boxes, it is about your relationship with me. Grab a cup of coffee, go into your room, and sit with me. When you pray this way, you won’t get accolades from people who think your faith must be really amazing. The reward will be so much greater, a deepening relationship with me.
(7-8) Also, don’t feel the need to pile up religious sounding phrases, thinking that somehow I hear those better. You could use the most profound theological words or the words of poet laureates, but so often, ten dollar words come from a self-focused mind rather than from childlike innocence. Just come talk with me, child to Father. I already know everything you need; what I most desire is time with you.
(9) My Son told you how to pray. His few lines here are the most well-known prayer ever spoken. It is so well known that sometimes people skim along the surface, failing to engage his words at any deep level. Slow down with me and pay attention to his words.
Jesus began, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” My Son addressed the prayer to me, his Father, yet I am not only his Father, but yours too. I want you to be able to come to me as child to parent, knowing that I am not some disconnected deity, but your loving Papa.
My Son has spent eternity honoring my name, and vice versa. In the inter-Trinitarian flow between my Son, my Spirit, and me, we always highlight one another. Do not treat who I am with casual indifference; revere my holiness.
(10) My Son next prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus’s petition was not that the end of times would come, and some future kingdom—completely different from the world—would show up. When he asked that my kingdom would show up, he was asking that the kingdom way, the Jesus way, would begin to effect people right there. If you want to follow my Son, your principal call is not to get people to heaven, but to bring a bit of heaven to earth. I want you to grow into the kind of person who love like my Son loves, whose life bears kingdom fruit. That is my will both in eternity and right now, where you are.
(11) Jesus prayed for daily bread. It is not wrong to pray for your needs. I could have created you without the need for food, water, sleep, shelter, or relationship, but I didn’t. I made you with very real physical, relational, and spiritual needs. I love to give these things to you and I love when we can talk about them together. So come and ask. I delight in providing for you exactly what you need.
(12) Jesus wanted you to know that I am a God that forgives. I already know that every day, there will be things that you think, say, and do that are contrary to my will, yet I am a Father who delights in forgiveness. Let my mercy have an impact upon your own relationships. Forgiven people forgive people. Search your heart. Are there people you are holding a grudge against, or people who have harmed you? Forgive them. Release your bitterness toward them. That is your high and holy calling.
(13) Jesus’s final petition was “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” First, I want you to know that I never tempt anyone to sin. Satan is the tempter. I am aware of your life and the temptations you face. Do not be afraid to ask me to keep you out of those tempting places. Listen for my Spirit when temptations arise. Flee to my loving embrace. Remember that through my Son, I long to deliver you from evil. You were made right with me by his blood, but it is also true that my Spirit can take you by the hand and lead you from evil every moment of every day.
Generally, when you say the Lord’s Prayer in your gatherings, it concludes with “for yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.” Those words are not a part of the original prayer, but they certainly reflect the heart of the prayer.
(14-15) After the prayer, my Son returned to the topic of forgiveness, one of the hallmarks of life in me. I am a God who forgives. I have forgiven you for all of your sins. Live in that reality. How can you truly understand my forgiveness when you cannot move beyond the bitterness you feel toward others? You cannot. When you let go of the anger and hurt you hold to toward others, your hands are open to be able to grasp my forgiveness.
(16-18) In my Son’s day, fasting as a religious practice was more common than it is now. Religious people often intentionally made themselves appear miserable so that others might notice their righteous behavior. Like prayer or charity, if your actions are motivated by worldly accolades, you will receive exactly what you seek. How common it is for people to draw attention to their own goodness! What was allegedly done to honor me becomes all about them. Listen, there are many soul-enriching things you can do, but there is no need to draw attention to yourself. I see you. I honor your work. Instead, prepare yourself as you always do and go out and live your life.
(19-21) Don’t spend so much time amassing material wealth. When your entire life is focused on accumulating more stuff, it takes the focus off of relationships with me and with others. All of those things you seek to acquire end up falling apart or they get taken from right under your nose. Then what? All of those things serve no kingdom purpose. Beloved, invest yourself in something that has eternal significance: love. Loving other people, loving me, loving yourself—these are eternal acquisitions. If you treasure things over people, your heart will be broken, but when you treasure people, you are wholehearted.
(22-23) Your eyes are able to take in so many things. I created them that way. They can sense the good and bad. You might think of your eyes as a flashlight; you can focus the beam on goodness, truth, and beauty, or you can focus on evil and corruption. Those images, good or bad, are cataloged in your mind. When you consistently focus on me, you are filled with my goodness, but when you focus on evil things, you cast yourself into darkness. When your mental inventory is filled with evil images, I cannot dwell with that great darkness.
(24) Whole people find their entire identity in me. I did not design you to be able to live for me and for corruption. It cannot be done, because when you love me, you hate sin, but when you cozy up to sin, you are telling me that you hate me and everything that I love. You cannot serve me and your wallet.
(25-26) But listen, beloved: I am for you. I do not want you to devote so much energy to daily worries about things like whether you will have enough money to make ends meet, or whether you will have a job next week, or whether your clothes will wear out before you can afford new ones. Food, clothing, and shelter—these things are not life in and of themselves. True life is so much more. I see you look out the window, delightedly watching the birds at the feeder. They didn’t plant sunflowers, yet they find food. If you delight to feed them, how much more do I delight to feed you? You are so much more valuable than they are.
(27-30) Do you imagine that fret and worry are an elixir for a long life? Do you think that if you feel anxious enough about the problems in the world that you will somehow solve them in your thoughts? You have closetsful of clothes and yet you worry about whether they are the right style, the right, season, or the right name brand. Does it guarantee you success in my kingdom if you are a stylish dresser? Have you ever looked at a lily? Delicate and beautiful, I provide its clothing. A field of lilies or even a meadow of wildflowers eclipses the magnificence of the most in demand fashions. Flowers are here today and gone tomorrow, often treated as weeds. If I am committed to bringing such beauty for a fleeting moment, will I not also take care of your needs? When you fall back into anxiety and the belief that you have to do it all on your own, it communicates that you don’t have faith in my daily provision.
(31-33) When you find yourself stressing about what you are going to eat, wear, or drive, use it as an opportunity to turn to me. Look at the world around you. Everywhere you look, there are people striving to acquire more stuff. Advertisers count on it. They tell you what you need to be happy, but they don’t know. I am the only one who knows your every need. So instead of killing yourself to acquire more stuff, seek my kingdom where every need you will ever have will be met. My servant C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Put second things first, and you will lose both first and second things. Put first things first, and the second things are thrown in.”
(1-2) Here is another frequently referenced verse of my Son’s sermon, but this one is often quoted by those who reject me. Jesus said, “Do not judge, in order that you won’t be judged.” Often, people shorten this verse to two words, “Don’t judge,” which misses the nuances of what my Son was saying. He was cautioning his hearers against wrong judgment, which is so common both in and out of my church. People hold others to standards that they themselves fail to meet every day, which is the definition of hypocrisy. If you choose to judge quickly and are stingy with grace, that same approach will be used with you.
(3-4) You believe you have developed 20/20 vision to see the sins of others, but you are myopic for your own sinful tendencies. You see someone yelling at their child in the grocery store and you roll your eyes. As you judge their parenting, you neglect the hatred you feel toward people who fail to meet your expectations. You hear stories of women arrested for prostitution and you judge their lifestyle choice. Meanwhile, you entertain lustful thoughts every day. As my Son said, specks and logs.
(5) Start with yourself. Search your heart. Where are your splinters? What work needs to be done in you to move you toward wholeness? A whole person, one who has done their own work and understands that brokenness and belovedness exist together because of my Son, is able to help others on their path toward wholeness.
(6) Child, I love the work you are doing as you are coming to understand who you are in my Son. Like a pearl, your growth and beauty has, in many ways, developed through painful circumstances. You are beginning to grasp my love and goodness, but you are also coming to grasp your own. There are many who will scoff at you for believing I am love itself, or that you are coming to know yourself as loved and accepted “just as you are and not as you should be, because you are never going to be as you should be,” as my dear friend Brennan Manning would often say. There are people in and out of my church who will take every opportunity to criticize, belittle, and attack whatever you are coming to believe. Don’t take the bait.
(7-8) These hypocrites would have you believe that if you don’t have the right posture, theology, or holiness, I will not hear your prayers. In truth, if you ask, it will be given. If you come looking for me you will find me. If you knock at my door, I will welcome you into my embrace. Listen, you do not need to have the right religious credentials to talk to me. It doesn’t matter who you are. Come and ask.
(9-11) As a parent, if your son asked you for a fish, you wouldn’t give him a snake, or if your daughter asked for a slice of bread, you wouldn’t give her a stone. In a fallen world, you wrestle with mixed motives, goodness and evil, self-sacrifice and self-centeredness. Yet as a parent, you still desire to bless your child. In fact, you delight to do so. Imagine then how I, your Father in heaven, delight to give you good things.
I know that you feel confused about this verse. You ask and I seem silent. Perhaps you even cry yourself hoarse in petition and you perceive nothing from me. Hear me now: I am always for you. I will always allow what is most beneficial for you into your life. Sometimes my bread may seem like a stone. Think of it this way, if a young child required surgery to remove a tumor and could not have food on the morning of the operation, her parents’ love is best revealed not by giving her something to eat, but instead by being with her in her discomfort, knowing that her immediate wants are not inherently evil, but must be delayed for a higher purpose. Let me say it again. I am for you, through and through.
(12) Jesus told his hearers that they should do unto others as they would have done to them. The “golden rule,” as it is commonly described, summarizes and captures the essence of my entire law. So why did I give the commandments to my people at Sinai? I wanted to give them scaffolding of what a life built on love would look like. But I also want you to understand that I am more interested in cultivating your relational wisdom than in making you a rule follower. You are growing in love and other-centeredness, not in earning spiritual merit badges.
(13-14) I have called you to life on the narrow road. My servant Vincent VanGogh once remarked, “Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.” The roads people typically choose are paved with good intentions. People who flat out reject me choose the highway toward self-destruction. Self-centered living is a well-trodden road, but it leads to nowhere but pain. Yet it is not only those who have flatly rejected my Son who are on a dead-end road, but many religious people too. Their perfectly paved road is filled with warning signs and law enforcement officers every few feet. The result is exhaustion. Those who take that road are so busy trying to follow the rules that they are never able to take in the beauty and grandeur of my kingdom. Many of them give up. But my Son has called you to his way of life. What makes his gate narrow and his path difficult? People on your right and left will criticize you. They will seek to extinguish your light. They will tell you you’re wrong. All of these things will deepen your thirst for my Son. It can be a hard wait, and a difficult walk, but look ahead for my Son. He’s there ahead of you.
(15) I want you to be aware of those who claim to be my messengers, but also believe they are the only ones who have rightly understood my word. Too often, they use a lot of God-words and enthusiasm, but if you pay attention, there is no evidence of love. They use their positions of authority to control people. Their criticisms, shaming, and demand to follow their way devours people, bite by bite. Once they have consumed the souls of the broken, they move on to the next feeding.
(16-20) If people look the part and quote lots of Bible verses, how are you supposed to discern their motives? Look at the fruit that grows in their lives and out of their ministries. They might have you believe that the fruitfulness I am talking about include larger congregations, larger budgets, and larger buildings. They judge their fruit by their influence or their brand, but my apostle Paul said that fruit included things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. No one assumes a hungry wolf is gentle. Good fruit grows on good trees. Those who have tasted my grace and goodness themselves become gracious and good. Poisonous fruit comes from evil roots. The use of shame, control, or even using religious language to belittle others are evidences of poisoned fruit, but listen, diseased trees will be cut down and cast into the fire.
(21-23) My Son continued condemning hypocrisy. Simply using my name while you talk or saying a lot of Christian phrases will not get you into the kingdom. I want you to remember that my kingdom is not some far off, future place, it exists among you. Entering my kingdom means following my Son in the ways of love. Lots of people tell me about all of their religious activities they did in my Son’s name, but when those activities come from a place of self-promotion and not love, how can they possibly reflect me? If you insist on self-glorification rather than other-centeredness, my Son will declare that he does not even know you.
(24-27) I want you not only to hear my Son’s words, but to do them. Acquiring theological tidbits and memorizing Bible verses may be an enjoyable pastime, but it isn’t what I have called you to do. Imagine if my words were seed for good fruit, but you put them in a jar that you take off the shelf and admire every day. They couldn’t grow. Put them in the dirt and let them take root. A wise man uses wisdom to build a good home, first looking for a solid foundation. A home built on rock stands strong even when battered by storms. A home that is tossed up willy-nilly with no thought for its base is in danger of falling apart. There is no safe foundation apart from my Son.
(28) When my Son finished speaking his hearers were awestruck. He was no mere carpenter; his words rung true. He was not merely sharing from the law and prophets, but was revealing to them deeper truths. The Sermon on the Mount remains an essential ethical teaching throughout the world for good reason. It reveals that life in my kingdom comes from a place of other-centered love.
(1-4) After his teaching, my Son came down from the mountain and was followed by large crowds of people who were continually amazed at his teachings. A man with leprosy came to him, asking to be healed. Thus far, Matthew had not described any of my Son’s healings, but even so, he told this story quite matter-of-factly. The man said, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Jesus responded with equal brevity: “I will. Be clean.” Just like that, without any fanfare, the man was healed of his skin disease. Jesus instructed him to go directly to the priest and receive his seal of approval that he was clean, for lepers were not allowed in Jewish fellowship until they were pronounced “clean.”
(5-9) My Son once again entered Capernaum, where he had been living. A Roman soldier saw him walking and approached, asking for healing for his servant, who was paralyzed at home. Jesus offered to go home with the Centurion, but the soldier demonstrated exceptional faith in my Son, saying, “Lord, I’m not worthy to have you come to my house. All I’m asking is that you say the word, and I know he’ll be healed.” As a man both under authority and entrusted with authority, he knew that all Jesus needed to do was command it and it would happen.
(10-13) The centurion was a man of great faith. He had no doubt in my Son’s ability to heal. Jesus went so far as to say that even in the nation of Israel, my chosen nation, he had not seen such faith.
Those who populate my kingdom are not only Jews, or American Christians, or conservatives. It doesn’t matter what group you choose. You would be quite surprised who’s in my kingdom. People from the east and west will be at my feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while those who were certain of their status as gatekeepers in my kingdom won’t even be there. There is great darkness outside of my kingdom. In that dark place, suffering predominates because it a place apart from intimacy with me. After this interlude, Jesus said to the soldier, it is as you requested.
(14-15) One more time, Matthew presented a healing story. He went into Simon Peter’s house and found that Peter’s mother was down with a fever. Jesus touched her hand, and she was healed. She got up right away and served my Son. The word about him was spreading. He had healed a stranger, a foreigner, and a friend. His mercy is available for everyone.
(16-17) As evening approached, people from all over town came to Peter’s house so that Jesus could heal them of their illnesses and evil oppressions. My Son’s authority over the powers of evil and illness was anticipated by Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
(18-20) My Son generally did not send crowds away, but neither did he seek them out. As was increasingly the case, large crowds followed him everywhere. He instructed his friends, who were accomplished sailors, to go over to the eastern shore. A scribe, one who knew the law and instructed others about it, said to my Son, “Teacher, I’ll follow you anywhere.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man (a title he often used for himself) has nowhere to lay his head.” Following my Son is not an invitation to live on easy street. Truly following him can often be uncomfortable.
(21-22) Another student said, “Let me bury my father first.” His father was not yet dead, but the disciple did not want to really commit to following my Son until his dad died at some point in the future. Jesus said, “Follow me. Let the dead bury their own.” He was stressing the importance of discipleship. People come up with many reasons to avoid following—school, family, or work—but in truth, you can be my Son’s disciple in every circumstance in which you find yourself.
(23-27) Jesus finally got into the boat and his disciples followed. It was a stormy night and the waves picked up so much that water was beginning to fill the vessel. Even though these men were accomplished sailors, they were afraid. My Son was taking some much-needed rest. When they saw Jesus asleep, they were incredulous. They cried out an honest prayer, “Save us! We’re going to die!” When he got up, he said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Is your faith in me so small?” Jesus gazed upon the waters and commanded the wind and waves to stop. At once, the sea was still like glass. His disciples were stunned; here was not just a great teacher, but he was able to command nature itself.
(28-30) They reached the region of Gadara, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They were met by two demon possessed men who had been living among the tombs. These men prevented passage to anyone who came their way. They recognized my Son. They cried out, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come to torment us before the time comes?” These demons lived in the spirit world. They had no trouble identifying my Son. They also know that according to my divine plan, the time would come for their judgment.
(31-34) Knowing his power over them, they asked to be cast into a herd of pigs and promptly entered the sea. The herdsmen were dumbfounded. They went into the city and regaled the people with stories of the pigs and especially the man who commanded demons. Everyone came out to meet my Son, filled with curiosity and fright. Ultimately, they begged him to leave.
(1) After his time in Gadara, he returned to his home base in Capernaum. Don’t miss the reality that he had crossed over the sea with no stated purpose. Just a few paragraphs earlier, Matthew wrote that he saw the crowd around him and gave orders to go over to the other side of the sea. Jesus had no mission tour planned on the eastern shore, yet even so, a whole community heard his message about the kingdom. After healing the two men and interacting with the citizens, he returned home.
(2) The people of Capernaum had not forgotten him. When he arrived, a group of people carrying a paralyzed man on a cot came to him. My Son saw the faith of the group and said to the man, “Take heart my Son, your sins are forgiven.” I want you to notice a couple of details here. It was not only the paralytic man’s faith my Son observed, but the faith of his friends. Life in me, a Trinitarian life, is never isolated. Your thoughts, beliefs, imaginings, and emotions have a community impact. I never intended it to be otherwise.
Second, my Son told the man that his sins were forgiven. Perhaps that phrase stunned you because you imagine that physical maladies such as paralysis are not typically related to sin. Your concept of sin is often too limited. Sin does not deal merely refer to behavior, though people throughout the generations have treated it that way. Sin reflects all the brokenness, immorality, and death in the world. Behaviors may be sinful, but it is not only behavior that can be sinful.
(3) As was often the case with my Son, there was a posse of religious professionals pronouncing judgment on my Son’s words and works. They said to one another that my Son was blaspheming me by taking upon himself what only I, God, could do. They had no concept that Jesus is fully God or that he and I are one and were trying to protect what they knew of my reputation.
(4) My Son knew what was on their minds. He asked them, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” Beloved, I wish this were not such a common thing among people. You make assumptions about one another and, truth be told, you often assume the worst. The scribes were doing this with Jesus. They are not the only ones. It happens every day when people fail to believe that others are doing the best they can. Although it is good to be vigilant about evil, when heresy hunting becomes your primary pastime, it will destroy you.
(5-8) Jesus went on, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Rise and walk’?” If you are thinking concretely, the phrases seem similar, right? Both are simple, yet my Son’s message was deeper. The difficulty comes in the proof. One can say, “Your sins are forgiven” and there is no way you can tell, from your vantage point, whether that statement is true. On the other hand, the effect of the command to “Rise and walk” is directly observable. Each of these phrases were important because they demonstrated to the people that my Son was more than a sage or guru. He possessed divine authority, even over sins. He told the paralyzed man, “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home” and so he did. The onlookers were astounded. When they recognized my Son’s authority over the created world, they glorified me.
(9) Jesus pressed on, meeting Matthew, the author of this gospel account, at his tax booth. Jesus looked at him and said, “Come follow me” and he did. Most people considered developing a friendship with a tax collector to be extremely unwise for a faithful Jew. They were not well regarded by the Jewish people because they chose to work against their community on behalf of the Roman government. Not surprisingly, tax collectors were viewed as traitors. It might be easier to understand if you imagine a neighborhood guy who takes collections for the mafia. No one wanted to see them coming because of who they represented. But for my Son, no one is beyond redemption.
(10-13) Jesus and his friends went and ate dinner with Matthew. As a man of questionable morality, Matthew’s social group was made up of outcasts—other tax collectors and sinners, the local black sheep club. The Pharisees, who dedicated themselves to perfectly following the letter of my law, looked on with disgust. They asked Jesus’s disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Their question was not curiosity, but judgment. Jesus replied, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Rather, it is sick people who need treatment. I want you to ponder what the prophet Hosea meant when he wrote, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ I did not come for those who already have it together, but for the broken, battered, and misbehaved.”
Jesus’s statement was as much a clarification of his mission as it was a corrective to the self-righteous. The Pharisees believed they were closer to my kingdom than anyone else and certainly closer than blatant sinners and scofflaws. They did not believe they needed healing, whereas the broken are exquisitely aware of their need for mercy. When you are broken, needy, and hurting, you are in exactly the right place.
(14-15) To be clear, my Son’s actions were confusing even to those who were on his side. His cousin John’s students came to him and said, “Why is it that the Pharisees fast and we fast, but your disciples don’t?” Fasting was frequently practiced to remind people of their hunger for me. Jesus replied, “Would the guests at a wedding be sad when the groom was there with them? Of course not. Eventually, the groom will be taken and then fasting is appropriate, but during celebration, celebrate!”
(16-17) Jesus used two images to help them see the new reality of life with him. First, if a person attempted to patch a pair of pants with brand new cloth, the new cloth would shrink, but the old would not, which would end up ripping an even bigger hole than the first. In a similar way, putting brand new wine, which has not had a chance to ferment and expand would tear open an old rigid wineskin. Supple skin was needed. Life with my Son is new covenant life, bursting with the presence of my Spirit, and the life of my Son. The old rules and norms don’t work anymore. This is something new, fresh, and true.
(18-19) Jesus was still in the process of explaining these realities to John’s disciples when a ruler rushed in and knelt before my Son. With trembling voice, he said, “My daughter just died, but you…if you come and touch her, she will live again.” Jesus and his friends left with the man.
(20-21) On the way to the man’s house, a large group of people accompanied Jesus, as usual. A woman made her way into the crowd, wending her way to my Son. For a dozen years, she had been suffering from nonstop bleeding. When she came close enough, she reached out her hand and touched his cloak. She had faith that even this simple act might be enough to heal her. For 12 years, nothing had worked. She was desperate. This condition had kept her from fellowship within the Jewish community. It eliminated the possibility of sexual intimacy. It weakened her physically. According to my servant Luke’s telling, it even burned up her finances. I created people for wholeness and when it is lacking, people will go to desperate lengths to seek it. She was even willing to break the Jewish law for a chance to get close to my Son.
(22) Perceiving a shift in his Spirit, my Son turned to her. Though she had averted her eyes, he knelt before her and looked at her straight on. He said gently, “Daughter, be encouraged. The faith you just showed me has made you well” and she was immediately restored by the power of faith. Don’t miss the relational connection Jesus made. When he looked at her, he communicated, “I see you. I see beyond your brokenness. I see a beloved child of God.” Then he addressed her as “daughter.” She was an adult woman, but calling her daughter signified her belonging. It let her know she mattered.
My child, I know that you also struggle with wondering where you fit and whether you belong. I see past your brokenness, your sin, and your insecurities. Your belovedness remains visible to me amid all those other things. My Son came to clear a path between us, so that you can confidently rest in me, the Father who loves you without condition or reservation.
(23-26) My Son was often interrupted. While he was doing one thing, someone would come along and interrupt. I want you to be present enough to the moment that when someone interferes with your plans, you can adjust. Seek to be a loving presence in whatever circumstances you find yourself. Sometimes, that means your plans will be hijacked. He continued on and when he came to the ruler’s house, he saw the mourners. He told them their grieving was not needed because she was merely sleeping. They knew she had died, so they laughed at him derisively. My Son sat next to her, another one of my precious children. He took her hand and raised her to life, saying, “Talitha cumi!” which means, “Little girl, arise.”
The word about my Son continued to spread. The ways my Son engaged both the adult woman and the young girl in this passage shows how much he values his children. He addressed each of them with a term of belonging and identity, just as he does with you. My Son always gives life, belonging, and wholeness without cost, which glorifies me.
(27-31) Jesus moved on. Along the way, two blind men fell in behind him, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Calling him Son of David acknowledged that my Son was no mere healer, but messianic. The blind men followed Jesus into a house. Jesus asked them, “Do you believe I am able to heal you?” He wasn’t performing parlor tricks, but miracles fueled by faith. They each affirmed their belief. Lifting both hands, he touched their eyes, saying, “Then let it be, according to your faith.” Immediately, they saw. With conviction, my Son said, “Now, don’t tell anyone about this,” but as was often the case, miracles are rarely kept secret.
(32-34) No sooner had the two men left than a man oppressed by demons was brought in. The demon had robbed the man of his voice. My Son cast out the demon and the man spoke. The crowds standing by were dumbstruck. “There has never been anything like this in all of Israel.” The Pharisees also knew that something unique was happening, but rather than attributing it to my power, they believed it was by the power of Satan. It is not uncommon for people to see things that do not fit their script and attribute it to some dark, demonic force. Be cautious of making assumptions when things do not happen according to your preconceptions. When good things happen, look for my hand at work.
(35) My Son was often on the move, going from town to town, telling people about life in our kingdom. What is our kingdom like? It is a place of wholeness and love. It is a place where you know my love for you and you freely express your love for me, yourself, one another, and for all of creation. It is a place where shalom reigns. Every time my Son healed disease and affliction, he offered a foretaste of my kingdom in all its fullness.
(36) Everywhere he went, crowds followed him, yet each individual thirsted for something more. Filled with compassion, his heart went out to them as he saw their pain and sense of displacement. Like sheep with no shepherd, they wandered aimlessly.
My child, I know that you also wrestle with questions of identity, purpose, and belonging. You ask, “Who am I really? Why am I here? Where do I fit in?” These are wonderful questions, which find their answers in my Son.
(37-38) Jesus told the disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but there are not many workers to gather it in.” There was a lot to be done; there still is. Do not neglect talking with me about the need for more kingdom ambassadors.
(1) The twelve apostles were the first harvesters sent out. They had spent time getting to know him and his message. He had prayed diligently for each one of them. He brought them together and said, “I give you authority, in my name, over the kingdom of darkness. Because of me, you have the power to heal every disease, illness, and oppression you may encounter.”
(2-4) The twelve were: Simon, who Jesus called Peter, the Rock; his brother Andrew; James and John, Zebedee’s sons; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew, the tax collector; another James, Alpheus’s son and Thaddeus, who John called Judas; a second Simon, the zealous one, and finally Judas, my Son’s betrayer. Two Simons, two Jameses, and two Judases. It is good to know their names because it helps you follow the story.
(5-6) My Son sent these twelve out, the first ministers of the gospel of the kingdom. He told them, “For now, I don’t want you to go to those places of the Samaritans and Gentiles. Start with the Israelites, who are once more lost sheep wandering in the desert. Remember the need is great, but the workers are few. Start with who you know.”
(7) “As you go, I want you to say to them ‘The kingdom of heaven is here among you.’” Like most people today, the apostles were looking for some future perfection, rather than recognizing that the work was in progress. They believe that my kingdom is all in the future, so they hunker down and withdraw from society, judging secular culture around them from their religious bunkers. They fail to understand that my kingdom, though not yet fully realized, existed in that time and place, just as it does now.
(8a) Jesus instructed them to heal the sick, raise, the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out evil spirits. Some of them were doubtful. I know that you are too, but my Son’s call is the same. By my Spirit, you have it within you to bring healing and wholeness into a world shrouded in pain, darkness, and brokenness.
(8b) My Son freely gives you these gifts and I want you to give them away freely. Too often, people use my message for their own gain. It isn’t supposed to be that way. Life in my kingdom is rent free.
(9-10) The apostles would not be gone long. Jesus was sending them out to get a taste of the kingdom. They had no need for money, clothes, or a walking stick. They had everything they needed. Their food would come through hospitality.
(11-15) When they entered a new town, my Son instructed them to discover who was hospitable and kind and stay with those people until they left, blessing the household in return. Ambassadors of my kingdom carry the peace of Christ within them, a peace that would fill the home. Yet there are those who resist my peace. Jesus did not want these new missionaries to be drawn into the disintegrated state of those who reject my kingdom, but rather to return to a place of peaceful centeredness in me. When they were rejected, they were not to fret or worry about what they might have done wrong. Jesus told them to shake off the rejection and leave. There will be people who choose to reject my love and peace, disregarding the inevitable pain. You will discover that as you live as my ambassador, some will welcome you with joy, some will reject you with anger, and some will remain indifferent. Do not allow the reactions of others to you unsettle your sense of wholeness in me.
(16) My Son did not want them to be naïve; He told them that they would be sheep mingling with wolves. He said, “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The serpent symbolized cunning; the dove stood for peace and innocence. He was calling them to peace and wisdom.
(17-18) He cautioned them against people who would take the earliest opportunity to accuse and punish the faithful, yet he wanted them to know that regardless of what happened, the kingdom would advance.
(19-20) Beloved, I know how often you fret over what you would say or how you would react when confronted about your faith. It was no different for the apostles. But I want you to know that my Spirit is always with you. Listen for him. He will tell you what to say. Listening for him is not a test you can study for.
(21-22) Although my kingdom is not divisive, its message can be. When peoples’ worldviews are confronted, their natural response is to become defensive and angry. The message about life with my Son can be so controversial, family members will betray one another, even to the death. When you speak about me with conviction, many will despise you. Even so, keep on going, knowing that I am with you. As you press through the pain, discouragement, and rejection, remember that you are safe in my presence.
(23) However, remember the shrewdness of a serpent; don’t simply stay put and take a beating. Escape to the next town. There will always be an abundance of ripe fields until my Son returns.
(24-25) Sometimes, my followers expect that they will be able to avoid difficulties. Hear me: if you are engaged in kingdom work, difficulties will come. A student is not above his teacher. Indeed, you are seeking to become like my Son. If they curse you in Jesus’s name, why would you expect they would treat you any differently?
(26-27) Don’t be afraid of the critics and persecutors. Although confusion may predominate now, eventually the smoke will clear and everything will be seen. Jesus shared certain things privately with his disciples, but he wanted them to go public with his message. The same is true for you. Don’t hold back about my kingdom; it is too important.
(28-31) Don’t live in fear of those who can inflict physical pain, destroy your reputation, or even kill you. What is physical death except release to be with me? If there was anyone to fear, it would be me. I could not only destroy your body, but your soul as well, because I created them both. But listen, I am utterly for you. A few sparrows could be purchased for some loose change, but even they are safe in my arms. I know everything about you—your insecurities, your sins, your thoughts, and your fears. I could tell you the exact number of hairs on your head without stopping to count. “I am closer to you than you are to yourself,” as my beautiful servant Augustine of Hippo once wrote, so do not be afraid. You are of infinite value, much more than every sparrow that has ever lived.
(32-33) Every person who acknowledges my Son in this world will also be acknowledged by him, yet there will also be those who want nothing to do with him and Jesus will let them have their way.
(34-39) My Son told his disciples that he had not come to bring peace, but a sword upon the earth. I understand how stark that seems to you, but peace is often hard wrought. The kingdom of the world does not easily surrender to the kingdom of heaven, because they are pursuing different ends. Within families, there will be those who are seeking my kingdom and others who are content to keep living in the world. This will lead to much hurt and confusion, but even so, do not sacrifice kingdom principles in order to avoid conflict. When you do so, you split your soul. Always be who you are. Follow my Son on the hard road, lest division come between you. If you want to discover the fullness of true life, let go of the false ways that ensnare you. Let everything burn for my Son’s sake, and you will find true life.
(40-42) When you are walking with my Son, anyone who accepts you, by extension, accepts him. Anyone who has offered help to the one who speaks on my Son’s behalf will also be rewarded. Those who welcome godly people will receive a reward. And anyone who meets the needs of those of lesser standing—even pouring them a cup of cold water—will not lose his reward.
(1-5) Finishing his instruction, he began to teach among the cities. John the Baptist was still trying to make sense of what his cousin was doing. He was now in prison and heard about Jesus’s ministry, which was not what he expected. He heard the stories about the Messiah from his mother Elizabeth growing up and he knew his place in the story. At least he thought he did. John sent his disciples to my Son, asking, “Are you the Messiah, or is it someone else?” John was confused because Jesus did not fit his preconceptions. He rarely does. Jesus answered, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, deaf people hear, and even dead people are raised to life. And the good news is shared with all.”
(6) My Son finished his words to John’s disciples by saying, “Blessed is the person unoffended by me.” Jesus wanted John to see how the truth was tainted by his preconceptions.
People who have heard about my Son and claim to know him and think they have all the “right” answers about him are often offended when confronted with the real Jesus. Whatever your biases or preconceptions about him, they are incomplete and always will be before my kingdom is realized in its fullness. Stay humble.
(7-11) They continued on, my Son speaking to the crowd as they walked. He asked them their impressions of John. “When you went out to see him near the river, what did you expect? Were you imagining a soft-spoken, comfortably dressed speaker, a frail man who lacked confidence in his message? Of course not. Those sorts of people are comfort seekers and live in big houses. So, who then was he? Were you expecting a prophet? Yes, John is a prophet in the tradition of the prophets of old, and yet he is even more. He is my Father’s messenger; he came to prepare the path for me. No one naturally born is greater than John, yet as important as John is, the meekest person in my Father’s kingdom is greater than him, because heaven does not operate by the world’s rules.”
(12) After John arrived on the scene, my kingdom was attacked by the religious people who believed they were guarding my kingdom. The religious people were supported by the local ruler, Herod Antipas, who became king after his father had died. Herod threw John into prison because of his bold witness for my kingdom.
(13-15) I sent a long line of prophets to boldly proclaim the truths of my kingdom, of whom John was the last. My Son wanted his disciples to understand where John fit into the lineage, and especially that he came in the spirit of Elijah, who boldly proclaimed my truth.
(16-19) My Son considered the generation at hand, asking, “What are today’s people like? The children expressed it best in their rhyme:
‘We played a flute,
you did not cheer,
we sang sad songs,
you shed no tears.’”
The people were unable to rejoice with Jesus or mourn with John. Neither John nor Jesus matched religious expectations. In every generation, Jesus defies imagination. People reject any manifestation of my Spirit that does not conform to their preconceptions. The people saw John, intense and rugged, and assumed he was possessed by demons. My Son lived a free, joyful life, but because of how he ate and drank, they assumed he lacked self-control. Here is the truth: if you want to know if something reflects my wisdom, look for the fruit. Is love growing like wild? That is a good indication that my Spirit is at work.
(20-24) Jesus shared his observations about cities where the good news of the kingdom was shared, yet no repentance occurred. He said, “Woe to you, Chorazin and Bethsaida. You witnessed my works, but they did not change you. If the citizens of Tyre or Sidon saw these things, they would have turned to me long ago.” Jesus used Tyre and Sidon as examples because they were occupied by Gentiles and had a history of worshipping false gods. My Son wanted his hearers to know that Tyre and Sidon would have it better in the end because they had turned from evil.
He also condemned Capernaum, the town where he lived, because they remained unmoved. They expected to be exalted, but Jesus told them their actions would be destroyed in flames. He compared Capernaum with Sodom, a city I destroyed with fire from heaven. Sodom’s citizens failed to turn from their wicked ways and yet even they would have turned at my Son’s message. The sin that infected Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum cannot be tolerated in my kingdom of love.
(25-26) After pronouncing these woes, my Son broke out in prayer. “Thank you, Father. You are the Lord over heaven and earth. You have opened the eyes of the young, the simple, and the downtrodden, while the same message is hidden from those known to be ‘wise and understanding.’ Their learning blocks the way to true wisdom. It was your will that it be this way.”
(27) “You have entrusted me with the keys to the kingdom because you know me, and I know you. No one can know your true nature as the God of love if they do not know you through me, because I am the embodiment of your love.”
(28-30) He continued, “Are you tired? Are you exhausted? Are you collapsing under the weight of the world you try to carry on your shoulders, diminished by the demands put upon you by yourself and others? Then come to me and I will give you rest. Tie yourself to me, walk at my side, and learn how I live. I am gentle and humble. With me, you will find the rest your soul so desperately needs. Being yoked to me is the way to restoration, not more burden. It is so much lighter than the heavy load you were carrying on your own.”
Life lived for me, with my Son, and by my Spirit is true freedom. So much of what passes for Christianity today is just legalism dressed in modern clothes. Every generation has had to fight to know that it is not piling up good deeds, but my lovingkindness, that sustains. Are you looking for a principle to follow? How about this: remind yourself every morning how much I love you.
(1-2) Immediately after inviting people to his easy yoke, Jesus was taking a Sabbath walk with his disciples through the grain fields. As they walked, they became hungry, so they plucked the heads of grain and snacked. As usual, the Pharisees were not far behind, looking for something to criticize. They said to Jesus, the sting of rebuke in their voices, “Look what your followers are doing. Picking grain is forbidden on the Sabbath because it is work.”
(3-4) My Son reminded them of one of their spiritual heroes, saying, “Haven’t you read that David with his band of men went right into the tabernacle and ate the bread of presence, which was there as an offering to God? By your standard, David also broke the law, because that bread was for the priests only.”
(5-6) “And have you ever considered the priests? They do their work right in the temple itself on the Sabbath. Are they lawbreakers? Listen, I want you to know that what is happening right here in front of you has far greater value than the very temple you cherish.” The Pharisees were enraged because they idolized the temple, just as they had made an idol out of keeping my law as they understood it.
(7-8) My Son went on, “If you actually understood what Hosea meant when he said, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. The Son of Man is Lord over even the Sabbath itself.”
My Son previously quoted this exact passage to the Pharisees. Pay attention to phrases that are repeated in my word, because they are often key to understanding my Son, my Spirit, and me. The Pharisees were doing the best they could with how they understood my word, but their wisdom was stunted and well-defended by their religious pride. They tried to follow an elaborate set of laws, believing that compliance is what I wanted, yet what I seek is not rule-keeping, but love and mercy. I would rather my followers ask, “What is the most loving thing that I can do?” than to try to figure out how to keep the rules. Dear child, I want you to continue to stretch into the question of love in all that you do. It is not rule keeping, but relationship, that matters.
(9-12) As he kept walking, he came again to the synagogue on the Sabbath and went in. A man was there whose hand hung useless, yet rather than looking at the man with compassion, the legalists once again attempted to corner my Son. They asked, point blank, “So, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” They believed they knew the right answer, “No.” Jesus returned their question, personalizing it to them. Looking at them each in turn, he said, “Which of you, if a sheep from your flock fell into a hole would not jump in and save it? People are so much more valuable than livestock! So, helping a brother in need is not only permitted on the Sabbath, it is a good thing to do.”
(13-14) Jesus looked at the man and said, “Stretch out your hand.” Just like that, the man’s hand was as good as new, yet the Pharisee’s hearts remained withered. Even though my Son sought to make it relevant to their circumstances, they doubled down on their self-righteousness, seeking a way to destroy him.
(15-21) My Son knew they were conspiring, so he left, because it was not his time. Still, many people followed him. He generously healed them all, yet asked them not to talk about it. This was to fulfill the words I inspired my prophet Isaiah to write.
Pay attention! The servant I have chosen,
He is my beloved and my soul delights in him.
My Holy Spirit will surround and fill him.
He will tell even the Gentiles about justice,
a time when all is made right,
He will not come to bicker, fight, or rant.
He won’t be found on a street corner looking to quarrel.
The battered, he will not beat,
The bedraggled, he will not treat with contempt.
He will work with diligence until all things are set right
and his name will be a beacon of hope for the hopeless.
Child, this is what my Son is all about. He gives mercy to the underserving, justice to the oppressed, and welcome to the outcasts.
(22-26) A man oppressed by demons was brought to my Son. He could not see nor speak, yet my Son restored him to wholeness. The people were amazed. They began to whisper among themselves, “Is it possible that this is David’s son?” remembering the prophecies they had grown up hearing. Overhearing the people’s speculations, the Pharisees felt threatened. They scoffed, “He does these things by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” My Son, knowing their thoughts, said, “Kingdoms corrupted by infighting are destined to collapse. Governments cannot work against their own purposes and last long. So, if Satan, who is committed to destruction, has become an agent for restoration, how can his kingdom continue?”
(27) He went on, “If I cast out demons by the prince of darkness, by whom do your sons cast them out?” Jesus was making a point that these people, so proud of their religious credentials, were inadequate to deal with Satan’s power. They had no leg to stand on.
(28) “But if it is by the Holy Spirit, and not by Satan, that I cast out demons, the implications for you are profound. You know that it means that the power of the kingdom of heaven is here in your midst. It is a whole new ball game.” The Pharisees knew my word. If they were willing to open their eyes, the implications for their theology would be huge, yet many still choose blindness.
(29) “No one can simply waltz into a strong man’s living room and steal his things. He must first deal with the threat of the strongman. Once he is tied up, the thief can do whatever he wishes.” Too often, my followers fail to deal with the realities of the spiritual world. Though my Son defeated Satan on the cross, until he returns, the devil will seek any opportunity to derail my children. Do not ignore his wily ways lest you stumble and fall.
(30) My Son wanted his hearers to understand that he was on mission. Those who chose to join him would also do his work, yet some would try to work at cross purposes to my Son. However, he cannot be thwarted.
(31-32) Every sin, every bad word about me, is covered by the blood of my Son. Every curse against my Son, every rejection of him will be forgiven, but it is the sin of continually blaspheming my Spirit that cannot be forgiven because it scars your soul.
Listen dear one, I know this verse has caused massive amounts of confusion, hopelessness, and anxiety. With old way thinking, so many of my beloved children worry that they have somehow blasphemed my name and are irredeemable, but you may always return to me. Always. Yet there are some who choose to reject my love and my offer of forgiveness. They turn from salvation’s gift at every moment. It breaks my heart, but I will not violate their choice. All I can do for them is to leave the door open.
(33) In a world of competing messages, I know how confusing it can be to understand who accurately represents me. Like his cousin John, Jesus told his hearers that the fruit of one’s life was an important indicator of who was following me. If the tree is good, it produces good tasting fruit, but if the tree is bad, the fruit is bitter.
(34-35) My Son knew the hearts of the Pharisees, calling them a brood of vipers, which lie still until they strike with their venomous fangs. He confronted their conflicted message; their forked tongues proclaimed their goodness while their hearts plotted evil. The Pharisees hated everything he stood for, because their hearts were full of evil. A good person holds on to good things and shuns evil. Evil people, on the other hand, become magnets for evil, but they call it good.
(36-37) When my Son returns, hidden evils will be exposed by his light. All your careless, hurtful, biting, and sarcastic words will be revealed. You will give an account for each of them. When you hear them all together, you will fall to your knees in lament, because while you live upon the earth, your awareness of your impact upon others is so limited. Your good words justify you, while evil words condemn, but take heart, your salvation is found only in my Son.
(38-40) Seeking to change the subject, some of the Scribes and Pharisees said, “Teacher, we would like you to perform a miracle for us.” They continued to look for ways to corner my Son. They asked for a sign not out of need, but to manipulate him. Again, my Son knew that their motives were grounded in evil. They did not love me, but rather some counterfeit version of me built upon warped understanding. My Son offered them only the sign of Jonah, the reluctant prophet who spent three days in the belly of a giant fish. Jesus would spend three days in the belly of the earth and, like Jonah, he would emerge alive.
(41) My Son’s message went beyond the similarity of three dark days; he was also confronting self-righteousness. He told them that the Ninevites’ repentance condemned the Pharisees and scribes because they were evil and yet they turned. Going further, my Son told them, “Something greater than Jonah is here.”
(42) Jesus also referenced the queen of the south, who came to hear the supernatural wisdom of the great king Solomon. Jesus suggested that even she would condemn them, because even though she was a foreigner, she was a seeker after my truth.
My Son’s examples of the Ninevites and the queen of the south were carefully selected because neither were Jewish. The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves on their lineage, and my Son toppled that house of cards, communicating that it was not birthright, but fruitfulness, that mattered.
(43-45) Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of one person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.” Self-will and religion may yield outward results for a time, but unrighteousness returns with great power. The Pharisees believed they had dealt with the spirit of sin and kept themselves clean by exquisite law keeping. They held their righteous deeds in high regard, something that is true in every generation. Religion and self-made righteousness provide people with false hope. The sinful spirit sent out from the legalist does not die, it merely takes a new form. It returns to take up residence once again, bolstered by even more evil spirits. The devil accomplishes much more with one person convinced of his own righteous standing than with seven people who know they are sinners in need of my grace. Beware of pride in your religious activity, dear child. When you feel complete in yourself, your ability to see me and accept my Son’s gift is blocked.
(46-50) Jesus’s mother Mary and his brothers were increasingly concerned about his behavior. At her conception, my angel Gabriel revealed my plan to Mary. Although she was a humble, godly saint, even she questioned what her Son was doing. Jesus’s ways are unexpected. Life in an upside-down kingdom often fails to make sense. They wanted him to come outside so they could talk some sense into him, but my Son said aloud, “Who are my mother and brothers?” Pointing to his disciples he said, “There they are, for whoever seeks to follow my Father’s will is a part of my family.”
Jesus was not disowning his family; he was expanding their understanding, because it is not lineage, but faith that makes you a part of my family.
(1-2) Leaving the house, Jesus went out to the water and sat down. Huge crowds, hungry for his word, thronged around him. The people pressed in so tightly that Jesus had no space to interact with them. He got into a boat and pushed out from shore, teaching those who remained upon the beach.
(3a) My Son began to tell them about what my kingdom is like. For centuries, theologians have tried to engage the people with doctrinal precision and theological language, but in truth, theology carries the risk of having little lasting impact. What moves people is story. Indeed, the 66 books I inspired, which make up the old and new testaments tell one grand story from Genesis to Revelation.
(3b-9) He began with the parable of the sower, perhaps one of his best-known stories. “A sower went out to plant seeds. From his seed bag, he spread them generously. Some seeds feel on the foot path and provided for the birds. Some landed upon the rocks. The thin layer of soil together with the sun and rain made them sprout quickly, but there were no roots, so they burned out. Some of the seeds landed in the thorny patches, which choked out the new growth. Yet some seed fell in the rich soil, and with nurturance, bore fruit, in some cases 100 times what was planted. If you can hear and understand what I mean, take this to heart.”
(10-13) Not everyone who heard my Son’s parable understood what he meant. Some walked away disinterestedly, while others thought he was telling them a nice story. Still others, like his disciples, wrestled to understand. They asked, “Why speak in parables, rabbi?” He replied, “You have received the gift of knowing my revealed will and my plans for the kingdom. Some have not been given this insight. Cherish what you have been given because you are ambassadors of my kingdom. You will develop greater understanding yet, but sadly others will never understand. I speak in parables because they think they understand, but they do not.”
(14-15) My servant Isaiah prophesied this reality. You can read it in the sixth chapter of his book:
The people will hear, but fail to understand,
they will see, but not perceive.
Their hearts are dulled, and they can barely hear.
They have shut their eyes.
If they would see and hear,
if they would pay attention
and seek understanding,
I would restore them to wholeness.
(16-17) Do not downplay the blessing that comes from openness to my Son, Spirit, and me. Throughout the history of my people, many spoke for me, pointing forward to the day of my Son, but the people turned blind eyes and deaf ears.
(18-23) My Son went on to explain the parable of the Sower. “There will be some who will hear the message of my kingdom and fail to understand what it means. Rather than pressing into the lack of clarity, their curiosity is snatched away by the evil one. This is the garden path. There will be some, represented by the rocky soil, who hear my message, but they do not internalize it. They get excited about singing songs, socializing, and expected blessings, but when things become hard, they have no more use for what they understood to be my kingdom. Those who grow amid the thorns apprehend the message of my kingdom, but the message gets distorted along the way. They attempt to commandeer my good news for obtaining riches, power, and notoriety. They became enamored with stuff and so lose sight of my true kingdom. Those planted in the good soil hear and understand the message of my kingdom. They see that kingdom living is not about comfort, power, or intellectual knowledge, but about love. When love takes root in their hearts, it bears a remarkable harvest—30, 60, or even 100-fold.”
(24-30) Jesus shared another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who planted good seed in his field. He went to bed and while he slept, his enemy planted weeds among the good seed. As the plants grew, the wheat and weeds came up together. The field hand said to the farmer, ‘I thought you had planted good seed. If so, why are there weeds?’ The farmer immediately knew what happened. ‘My enemy did this.’ Unsure what to do, the field hands asked if they weed the field, but the farmer knew that doing so would kill not just the weeds, but the wheat. In his wisdom, he said, ‘Wait until they have grown up and bore fruit. Then the reapers can pull out the weeds and throw them in the fire before harvesting the wheat.’”
(31-32) And another, “Heaven’s kingdom is like a mustard seed. It is one of the tiniest seeds, yet when planted, it becomes massive, like a small tree, so big that the birds may rest in its branches.”
(33) Yet another: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast. If someone takes a just a small bit and puts it in three cups of flour, it does its work and leavens the whole amount.”
In our kingdom, small actions often produce large effects. I know how easy it is for you to believe your actions are meager and inconsequential. They are not. My beloved saint, Teresa of Calcutta, is often quoted as having said, “We can do no great things—only small things with great love.” I want you to feel the freedom, my dear child to love, even when it comes in small doses, because it is love that builds my kingdom.
(34-35) Parables were his principle mode of teaching the crowds, which was anticipated by my prophet who said that he would speak kingdom truths through the mode of story.
(36-43) Leaving the crowds, Jesus went into the house where he instructed his disciples further. They asked, a bit confused, “Can you explain the parable of the sower to us?” He responded, “The field is the world. The sower is the Son of Man. The seeds that are planted are both the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one. The world is infiltrated by good and evil and will be so until the son of man returns with his angels at the close of the age. At that time, the Son of Man will charge his angels to destroy all manner of evil, sin, and lawlessness by fire. With the final decimation of evil, righteousness will shine brighter than the sun, overwhelmed by the beauty of the Father, the Spirit, and me living in perfect union with my kingdom.”
(44-46) He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone discovered and covered once again. With joyful anticipation, he sold everything to buy the field, because it was of much greater worth than everything he possessed.” He then told a similar parable. “The kingdom of heaven is also like a jeweler who finds a pearl of such magnificence that he sells all the rest of them to obtain it.”
My kingdom is not a supplement to an already comfortable life. It is of such value that when you come to appreciate it for what it is, trading everything you must be a part of it will not even be a question. In my Son’s parables, the two you just read, there was no calculation or forming a pro/con list, because the treasures were surpassingly magnificent.
(47-50) Next, my Son compared the kingdom to a net thrown into the sea. Hauling it in caught every variety of fish. When they caught their limit, the fishermen returned to shore to sort through their catch, separating good from bad. The separation of good from evil will also occur at the close of the age. Evil will be cast into flames where it will be consumed, while goodness will reside with me.
(51-52) Jesus asked the disciples if they understood and they said they did. He went on to tell them that students of my word will not remain enmeshed in the old covenant, because he was ushering the new.
(53-58) When he finished this set of parables, he left for Nazareth and taught in their synagogue too. They could not believe what they heard, because his wisdom and works were nothing like they had ever seen. As they talked together, they asked one another, “Isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s oldest boy, the brother of James, Joseph, Simon and Jacob? His sisters are here with us. How does a mere craftsman, one who works with his hands, come to know all of these things?” They were offended because he did not fit their assumptions, yet because he knew what they were thinking, my Son said, “A prophet is most dishonored in his own family and community.”
Certainly, you have seen similar things. People leave their community and become well respected in the ministry, business world, or somewhere else, but it is hard to leave behind their youth. Even my Son, the most influential person in history, was remembered as a boy from Nazareth. Because of their doubts about him, he did few mighty works in Nazareth.
(1-5) Matthew took a break from writing specifically about my Son to provide more back story about John the Baptist. Herod the Tetrarch, also called Herod Antipas, who ruled over one fourth of his father’s kingdom, heard about the growing fame of my Son, but in his paranoia, he believed it was not Jesus, but John the Baptist back from the dead. He was suspicious because he had arrested John and thrown him into prison because John boldly confronted his adulterous relationship with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Although Herod wanted to kill John, John was popular and the people rightly viewed him as my prophet, so he held back.
(6-7) When Herod’s birthday came, he threw a huge party. Herodias’s daughter danced sensually before Herod and his guests. She was so tantalizing that Herod could not think straight. He foolishly promised her whatever she wanted. People so easily cast wisdom aside because of their lusts. Solomon wrote about it in Proverbs, but it is true in every generation.
(8-11) The young girl was unsure what to ask for, so she went to her mother Herodias, who remained bitterly angry at John. Together, they conspired to ask for John’s execution. Echoing her mother, the girl said, “Bring me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Herod was immediately filled with regret. He had no intention of killing John, but he was even more committed to looking good before his guests, so he had John beheaded. His head was given to the girl, who in turn gave it to her mother.
This was the epitome of people pleasing. Herod did not want to “look bad” before his guests, so he had John killed. People pleasing is a frequent impetus for sin and so many people give in to it. I want you to do the most loving thing, even when it is difficult.
(12-13a) After John’s death, his disciples took his body and buried him. Then they told Jesus what had happened. When my Son heard the news, he got into a boat and went onto the water by himself. He felt the impact of grief and loss deeply, and he wanted to be alone with me. Do not assume that my Son was aloof about human pain and brokenness. He felt pain and loss deeply. Even knowing our divine plan for setting things right, he allowed himself to grieve. Grieving is a completely human thing to do. Do not short circuit your own sufferings.
(13b-14) Jesus was not the only one who was affected. The crowds knew that John was a part of the plan, so they were filled with confusion and sorrow. They did what came natural to them; they followed my Son. While he was on the water, a great crowd assembled on the shore. When he returned, Jesus felt compassion for them. He healed their bodies and hearts.
(15-18) Night was falling, yet the crowd remained. My Son’s disciples were feeling anxious about the day ending. They were in the middle of nowhere, which meant that food was not readily available, and people were getting hungry. The disciples suggested that Jesus tell the crowds to head to nearby villages to acquire some food. Jesus responded, “They don’t need to leave. You feed them.”
His request struck them as an absurd impossibility. Thousands of people were gathered; to feed them would take a miracle. They said to Jesus, “We’ve only got five small loaves and two fish.” They wanted him to feel the absurdity of his request too, but instead, he replied, “Bring them here.”
(19-21) Jesus had the crowds sit in the grass. When they had done so, my Son looked to me and said, “Father, your people are hungry. Feed them by your gracious hand. Thank you for your provision.” He broke the loaves and fish. The doubtful disciples began to pass them out. Every person—there were 5000 men plus their family members—took enough to satisfy their hunger. Even so, the leftovers filled twelve baskets. As the disciples suspected, a miracle was required, and a miracle was given. I am a compassionate God. I long to meet the needs of my people.
(22-23) Jesus had the disciples get the boat ready and start for the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. He offered a blessing for their journey and after seeing them off, he went up onto the mountain to be with me. As darkness descended, he stayed with me. We talked about the day, including the news of John’s death and the crowds that had gathered. Although he was often thronged by large crowds, he also knew that silence and solitude were essential. Quietness is especially lacking in the 21st century. Every day, thousands of messages compete for your attention. You fail to make space for quietness, which is detrimental to your spirit. My Son had to be intentional about seeking quiet places to be with me. Is it any less necessary for you?
(24-27) When he came down, the boat was already a long way from shore and the sea was choppy. The wind had reached gale force, and it was working against the disciples’ progress. In the early morning hours, while it was still dark, my Son walked out to them upon the waves. In the moonlight, they saw him walking upon the water, but they believed that he was a ghost. My Son responded with peace in his voice, “Friends, don’t be afraid. It is I.” His presence gave them comfort and courage. My Spirit is always present with you. Regardless of your circumstances, let my Spirit comfort and guide you.
(28-31) My beloved Peter, who always led with his heart, called out to my Son, “Lord, if it is actually you, tell me to come out to you.” Jesus replied, “Come.” With courage, Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus, but he became distracted by the wind and started to sink, because he felt afraid. Peter yelled, “Lord, save me!” My Son grabbed his hand and lifted him once again, saying, “You were doing it. Why did you doubt? What happened to your faith?”
With my Son, the impossible becomes possible. Peter believed. If he had not, he never would have gotten out of the boat in the first place, but his faith wobbled. Still, I called him the rock, the one upon whom I would establish my church. My beloved friend, Michael Card, wrote about a book about Peter that he titled Fragile Stone, because that is who Peter was, an unsteady rock. But I specialize in using wobbly faith for my glory. It is my only option. When your faith is shaky, or when you doubt my presence, remember that my power is made perfect in your weakness.
(32-33) Peter and Jesus got into the boat and, at once, the wind died. The disciples had been fighting the storm all night but now, in my Son’s presence, peace prevailed. His disciples looked at him with awe, saying, “There is no doubt that you are the Son of God.” When you get close enough to my Son to glimpse his glory, you have no choice but to worship him.
(34-36) They came to Gennesaret, a few miles down the shore from Capernaum. The people of the region immediately recognized Jesus and spread the word that he was in town. From all around the region, people came, bringing the sick and the oppressed, hoping to be healed. Many were satisfied to simply touch the edge of his cloak, so great was their faith in his power to heal. In fact, whoever touched him, was made well.
(1-2) Although my Son remained in the northern region, news about him had reached Jerusalem. Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to confront Jesus, hoping to put more pressure on him to stop preaching than the local religious leaders had been able to do. They asked him, “Why do your disciples eat without washing their hands?” The Pharisees had made this a demonstration of purity, even though I had never required it. There is a huge temptation to make rules where I never intended any, which leads to pride when you succeed and hopelessness when you fail.
Although the leaders came all the way from Jerusalem to exert more pressure, they had no relationship with my Son. Often, in power structures, those who are higher up attempt to dictate the actions of those whom they do not know. Demand without relational connection is control, not love.
(3-6) My Son answered their question with a question: “Why do you break God’s actual command because of your tradition?” God’s command was to ‘honor your parents’ and ‘whoever abusively criticizes his or her parents must die.’” The scribes and Pharisees altered the commands to fit their own liking. Rather than honoring and loving their parents, they would give instead to me, considering it a more righteous thing to do. They believed they were exempted from caring for their parents. In changing the understanding and application of my word, they reviled it. Their tradition became a way to justify their self-centeredness.
(7-9) Jesus called their actions what they were: hypocrisy. He quoted Isaiah to them saying:
These people talk a good word about me
but their hearts were elsewhere.
Their worship means nothing to me,
because what they demand has nothing to do with my word
but reflects their own evil desires.
The Pharisees and scribes presented a false image, as though they had it all together, but their hearts were prideful and self-centered, just as it has been in every generation. Hypocrisy seems to part and parcel with religion. True religion leads to wholeness and consistency of character, whereas much of what passes for religion dis-integrates the self and relationships.
(10-11) With the religious leaders still standing there, Jesus called the people to him, saying, “Listen, I want to tell you about true religion. It is about the heart, not external behaviors or rule keeping. What you put into your body is not what corrupts you, but rather what comes out of you.” It is your heart that is the source of good and evil, not what you choose to do or not do.
(12-13) My Son’s followers were intimidated by the religious leaders who came from Jerusalem. They pulled my Son aside and said to him, “Did you know that you offended the Pharisees?” They were concerned about the trouble they could make, but my Son was not, because he was committed to kingdom truths. He answered, “Every plant that my Father did not put in the ground will be pulled up by the roots.” When I created the world, I did not create evil and when I restore everything to its original fullness and beauty, evil will be uprooted and cast out.
(14) Jesus told the disciples to pay the Pharisees no mind because they were blind to my kingdom. What is more, they directed people to a false kingdom, to the detriment of them all. There have always been blind guides who believe they have cornered the market on my truth and they attract people with their false messages, but they lead the people not to my Son, but to counterfeit religion.
(15-20) Peter asked Jesus to explain, because he was still not seeing my kingdom clearly. Jesus said, “Do you still not understand what I am all about? Think about what happens. When a person eats something and swallows it, it gets digested and passes out of the body, but what a person says and does, that comes from inside. It reflects the state of their heart. A defiled heart gives rise to evil thoughts, murderous intent, lustful desires, immoral behaviors, theft, lying, and tearing others down. It is the evil that emerges from the heart that defiles. Washing your hands before you eat doesn’t matter at all regarding your soul.”
There are assuredly behaviors and practices that are helpful and healthy, but do not believe for a second that how you behave will justify you before me. It is the blood of my Son, not your deeds, that makes you clean.
(21-23) My Son went on a long journey to the region of Tyre and Sidon, two coastal towns along the Mediterranean Sea. A Canaanite woman from the area came to plead with my Son for her daughter. She cried out, “Have mercy, Son of David. My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Jesus initially did not answer her, but his disciples were becoming irritated. She was loud and persistent, so they begged Jesus to send her away. They were more bothered by their own discomfort than by the woman’s desperation.
(24-26) The woman was pagan, not Jewish, yet she came to my Son when she heard what he had been doing. Jesus, knowing what would happen, chose this opportunity to reveal his disciples’ biases. He looked at the woman and at his disciples and said to her, “I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” His disciples believed they were on the same wavelength as Jesus—Jews only, no foreigners. They hoped this would be enough to rid them of her wailing. Falling to her knees, she pleaded quietly, “Lord, please help me.” He replied, “It is not proper to give the children’s breakfast to the dogs.” Jesus’s choice of the word “dog” steeled their perception that this pagan woman was of less value in the kingdom. They did not yet understand that my Son was leading them deeper into their biases to reveal to them the diversity of my kingdom.
(27-28) Unthwarted, she continued, “Yes, Lord, but even dogs get to eat the crumbs off the floor.” My Son was moved by her great faith, and he instantly healed her daughter. I know how confusing this account has been for those who want to understand my Son. It is easy to read this story and come to believe that my Son was strongly nationalistic, but he was not. He welcomes all who come to him. Our kingdom is filled with people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Their interaction revealed the importance of faith, and not birthright, in my kingdom.
(29-31) He returned once again to his home region where he walked along the Sea of Galilee. He went to one of his favorite spots, the mountaintop, and sat down. He could see and address many people from there. The crowds came bringing the broken, battered, and bruised. With compassion, he healed them. No matter how many times my Son healed, the people were dumbfounded. In the presence of such goodness and power, they offered me praise.
The miraculous is never mundane. Witnessing my power and goodness leaves people breathless with delight and wonder. Yet how quickly you forget.
(32-34) Looking at the worshippers, Jesus called his friends over and said, “My heart goes out to these people because they have been here all day without food. I do not want them to pass out on their journeys home. Give them something to eat.” Even though the disciples had witnessed my miraculous provision when Jesus fed more than 5000 people, they had reverted to their small thinking. They asked, “Where are we supposed to find bread for this many people? We are in the middle of nowhere.” Not to be dissuaded, my Son asked, “How much bread do we have?” Seven loaves, and a few fish,” came their reply.
(35-38) Much like the first time, he told the crowds to sit down. He took the meager rations, broke them into pieces, and thanked me for my generosity. The disciples each took some and began passing out the food. Everyone ate their fill, yet they still gathered seven basketsful of leftovers. Four thousand men plus women and children. When you find yourself questioning what I am able to do or if you believe I am stingy with my grace, I want you to recall how my Son fed so many with so little, not once but twice.
(39) After dismissing the crowds, he got into a boat and traveled down the shore to Magadan.
(1) The Pharisees came to Jesus again, this time with some of the Sadducees, a different Jewish sect. The Pharisees and Sadducees were often in disagreement over theological matters, but when it came to my Son, they agreed that he was the problem. When they arrived, they asked him to perform a sign.
(2-4) Knowing their hearts, he responded, “You all know the idiom ‘red sky in the morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailors delight.’ You can read the skies, but you fail to read the winds of change. People who require signs as proof reveal their divided hearts. You will receive no sign except for the sign of Jonah.” On that note, he left them standing there. If you remember, he had previously told the Pharisees that the sign of Jonah would be given. He would be three days in the earth, before bursting from the grave in the fullness of life, but they did not know what he meant.
(5-10) Sailing again to the other side, the disciples realized they had forgotten to pack food for the journey. My Son, reflecting on his recent encounter, said to them, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They began to talk with one another about Jesus had said. They suspected that he was upset that they forgot to bring the bread, but that is not what he meant. He looked at them and said, “Where is your faith? Are you truly discussing the fact that we do not have any bread along? Have you so quickly forgotten that I twice fed thousands of people from almost nothing and that we ended up with more than we started with?”
(11-12) “Still you miss the higher reality of life with God. He provides more than you need. When I said ‘beware,’ I wanted to remind you to be watchful about the messages that contradict my kingdom. Both the Pharisees and Sadducees have beliefs that run contrary to the message of the kingdom, and they can be very persuasive. Their messages can infiltrate your beliefs while you aren’t paying attention.”
Beloved, that risk remains real. There are so many worldviews that compete for your allegiance, but the most dangerous ones pass themselves off as Christian. You do not need to be particularly cunning to spot those who blatantly oppose me. It is much harder to spot those who twist my message slightly, but still claim to represent me. Those who equate nationalism and conservative politics with the faith twist my message. Those who deny miracles or who think of Easter as just a nice idea with no physical resurrection twist my message. There are thousands of distortions: denial of the Trinity, works-based righteousness, and the health and wealth gospel are just a few. Beware of these things. Keep your focus on my Son. Seek to know him, and not the many distortions of him.
(13-16) Many miles north of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus and his disciples came into the region around Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked them, “Who have the people been saying that I am?” As my Son’s popularity grew, people far and wide began to speculate about his identity. They replied, “Some say John the Baptist. Others say Elijah or Jeremiah. They believe you are one of the prophets.” Jesus posed his question differently. “What about you? Who do you think that I am?” Simon Peter told him, “You are the Christ, the one who came to deliver the people. You are the very Son of the living God.”
My Son is the most influential person in the history of the world. Just as in Jesus’s time on earth, people in your day still have numerous opinions about who he is. Thousands of books, songs, and movies have attempted to capture him. For some, he was one of the great spiritual gurus. Others saw him as a wise man. Still others saw him as a really nice guy, but all of those characterizations are incomplete. Like Peter, each person needs to come to a point where they can acknowledge that my Son is the Messiah, the one who came to set all things right.
(17-19) With joy, my Son said, “How blessed you are, Simon son of Jonah, because you did not come to that conclusion on your own through reasoning or intellect, but because my Father in heaven opened your eyes. I want you to hear this: You are Peter, ‘the rock,’ and upon this rock I will build my church. What I build shall never be torn down, even in the face of Satan’s rageful attacks. As an ambassador in my kingdom, I will give you the keys to the castle. What you enact on earth shall be enacted in my kingdom. Evil spirits will be bound, and bound people will be set free. I delight to reveal myself to people. When people see me for who I truly am, they are made ready for kingdom work, to bind evil and release beauty and love.”
(20-23) Seeing their excitement at this clear revelation, my Son told them to keep his identity under wraps for a while, because his time had not yet come, but then he changed the narrative. They were expecting the Christ to be a conquering her and military genius who would restore power to the Jews. He told them that my kingdom works differently. He shared with them that he needed to go to Jerusalem, not to set up his throne, but to suffer at the hands of the Pharisees, scribes, and elders. He told them he would even be killed in the process but be raised again on the third day.
Peter was stunned. They all were. Peter had just confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the long-expected deliverer. Startled and confused, Peter pulled Jesus aside to rebuke him: “Do not even talk such nonsense, Lord! You are not going to be killed. You are the Christ. Surely, all of us will fight with you and for you.” My Son recognized Satan’s evil presence in Peter’s words. “Get out of the way, devil. You cannot tempt me away from my mission even though you try. Peter, your good intentions put blocks on the path I must walk. You are operating from a worldly playbook, not from my Father’s plan.” My Son’s ways often make no sense when you look at them only through your clouded eyes. Pray that my Spirit would uncloud your vision so that you can see my hand at work.
(24-26) Then Jesus widened their perspective even further, teaching them what life in my kingdom is like. He said, “If you want to walk my path, put yourself aside, take up a cross, and follow me. Do you want to save your true life? You must rid yourself of all the false ones you cling to. When you come to a place where you can loosen your grip on everything you think is so precious, you will find true life with me. What benefit is it to you if you claw and clamor to get ahead in the world—great job, nice house, plenty of money—but you lose yourself in the process. Will all of that stuff equal out when you give up your soul?”
My child, remember my kingdom does not operate by the world’s rules. Every day, you hear messages that tell you to acquire more stuff and to make yourself feel good, even if it means trampling over others. The world runs on self-centeredness; my kingdom runs on love and you cannot be filled with it until you are willing to set aside your death grip on your “rights.”
(27) One day, my Son will return surrounded by legions of angels. He will shine with Trinitarian glory. Each will receive what is due to them. If you have made space for my love by emptying yourself, how much more space will there be for my love.
(28) With excitement, Jesus told his friends that some of them would not need to wait until death to see the Son of Man in his full glory, wearing the regalia of glorious light befitting heaven’s King. It is a vision that awaits you too, beloved.
(1-2) Not even a week later, Jesus took his three closest friends—Peter, James, and John—up a high mountain. He had not told them what to expect or why they were going, but he was about to open their eyes to see his glory. As Jesus stood before them, his appearance changed as he became Light itself. His face was brighter than the sun and his clothes were pure white. Jesus chose to reveal his true nature in all his radiant glory, and it took their breath away.
(3) Moses and Elijah appeared together, walking with my Son. Moses represented the law and Elijah represented the prophets, the summation of my word.
(4-5) When he was uncomfortable or uncertain, Peter’s response was often to speak. He said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here, to witness this glorious sight. If you would like, I will put up three tents, one for each of you.” In offering to build a tabernacle for each of them, Peter missed the reality of Jesus’s uniqueness. Moses and Elijah were there to testify to the greatness of my Son. I interrupted Peter, saying, “This is my Son, and I am so pleased with him. Listen to what he has to say. Let his words penetrate the depths of your heart.” I spoke similar words at his baptism. In both cases, I reminded his hearers of my Son’s belovedness, his truest status. Because you are in him, belovedness is the truest thing about you too.
(6-8) The sound of my voice was both terrible and wonderful to Peter, James, and John. To ears dulled by the world, the full exposure to my glorious strength is overwhelming. They fell on their faces, afraid to look up. My Son came and knelt beside them. He touched each of them gently, saying, “Do not be afraid. Stand up.” Tentatively raising their eyes, they looked up and only saw my Son. Do not miss the significance of seeing Jesus alone after first seeing Moses and Elijah with him. The law and the prophets pointed forward to my Son.
(9) Still processing what they had seen and heard as they descended the mountain, Jesus commanded them to keep what they had witnessed to themselves until he was raised from the dead. They were confused by what they had seen and were still wrestling with what he meant by “being raised from the dead.”
(10-13) As they continued, the three asked him to clarify something they were confused about. “If what you say is true, why do the theologians tell us that Elijah will come first?” Jesus responded, “Elijah does come first. In fact, he already has, but no one recognized him or heeded his message to repent, a message in the spirit of Elijah. Like this prophet I too will suffer at the hands of the religious leaders.” Suddenly everything clicked for them. Remembering the scriptures, they understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist. Indeed, if you compare Elijah with John, you will have no trouble seeing the similarities.
(14-16) When they returned to the people, a man came and knelt before my Son and pleaded, “Lord, please have mercy on my boy. His life is consumed by his epilepsy. When he has seizures, he falls into the fire and gets burned. Sometimes, he falls into the water and nearly drowns. While you were on the mountaintop, I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
(17-18) Jesus answered, but his response was for all who could hear him, “O my people, where is your faith? It breaks my heart to see the way sin has twisted how you understand the goodness and mercy of my Father. How long must I bear witness to your disturbed thinking?” My Son was not irritated but grieved to see the way sin so deeply corrupts creation. He called for the boy and rebuked the evil spirit, which came out of him. The boy had no more seizures.
The father told Jesus that his son had epileptic seizures, but then you read that Jesus, “rebuked the demon.” Are you wrestling to understand whether the boy suffered a physical malady like epilepsy or whether it was a spiritual problem? That dualistic thinking is a product of your culture in many ways. You have come to believe that a person’s problems are biological OR psychological OR spiritual. Listen, the fall tainted everything, and you cannot so easily put suffering into discrete categories. My Son understood that. To heal this boy was to heal his whole person.
(19-21) When they were alone again, the disciples asked my Son, “Why were we unable to heal the boy?” They had been watching him and had previously been commissioned by him for ministry. He told them, “It was because of your small faith. If you had the faith of a mustard seed, you would have succeeded in what felt impossible. You could have moved mountains.” Sometimes, when sincere believers read this passage, they assume that the disciples had no faith, but that is not true. He called their faith small, not absent. The image of a mustard seed was not meant to provoke a sense of small faith, but giant faith, because such a small seed accomplishes the seemingly impossible, becoming a tree from such meager beginnings. My child, I know that your faith can be unsteady. You sometimes trust me for smaller things, but when seemingly insurmountable difficulties arise, your faith shudders. Trust me also in the big things.
(22-23) They gathered once again in the region of Galilee. Jesus told his friends, “It is almost time for me to be delivered over to evil men. They will kill me, but I will come back to life on the third day.” They did not want to hear this. Jesus was their friend and teacher. They felt alive and loved when they were with him. The thought of him being killed was too much to bear.
(24-26) They returned to Capernaum, their home base. When they arrived, the tax collectors found them, because it was the time for the annual half-shekel tax, about two days’ wages, collected for the upkeep of the temple. They asked Peter, “Does your teacher pay this tax?” Peter responded affirmatively. When Peter entered the house, Jesus prompted him for an answer. “What do you think Simon? Who do earthly leaders collect taxes from? Do they tax their own families, or do they get money from others?” Peter answered, “from others,” making Jesus’s point. “Then the sons and daughters are free.” My Son was always teaching about kingdom realities. Citizenship in my kingdom is without cost, because you are my sons and daughters.
(27) Yet the incarnate Jesus was also in the world, living in a place governed by other people and was subject to its laws, just like everyone else. He instructed the fishermen in the group to take a fishing pole to the shore and cast their line upon the water. He said, “In the first fish’s mouth, you will find a one-shekel coin. Give it to them in payment for me and you.”
(1-4) The disciples came to my Son with a burning question. They wanted to know who was greatest in my kingdom. They had speculated together about this question. Was it Abraham the father of nations? Was it Moses, the leader of the Exodus? Or perhaps Elijah the prophet or Solomon the wise. Secretly, each hoped Jesus would say his name. Toppling their expectations, Jesus called a young child to him, and he put him before them so that they all could see him. He said, “Until you turn from self-glorification, you will not find your way to heaven’s kingdom. Follow the children instead. They know their dependence. If it is not for the provision and shelter provided by their family, they are hopeless. They live with openness and curiosity in my kingdom. They do not seek to manage every circumstance, because they can’t. I want you to embrace your status as my child, living vulnerably before me, with openness and curiosity about where I have placed it you.”
(5-7) Love the needy ones with intention—children, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised. Those who have no choice but to rely on the goodness and mercy of my people are so important to me. I want you to likewise value them. If your action or inaction causes them to sin, you are far from my kingdom and it would be better to be drowned than live with such self-centeredness and superiority. It is bad news for those who tempt others. Manipulating others for your own gain is the epitome of sin. Since the fall, it is true that temptations will come, but that does not mean you should then seek to be the tempter. You cannot pretend to be a happy citizen in my kingdom while you are manipulating others for your own self-centered gain.
(8-9) He drove his point home hyperbolically, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and be rid of it. Same with your foot. It is better to be disabled in my kingdom than apart from me in your sin. If your eye causes a sin, gouge it out. One eye is better than eternal darkness.”
Hear this: neither your hand, nor your foot, nor even your eye can lead you to sin. It is your sin-sick heart that leads to unrighteousness. Perhaps you are thinking, “But if I were to cut out my heart, I would die.” That was indeed my Son’s point. You must continue striving to kill off the heart of sin, knowing that under the terms of my new covenant, my Son came to give you a new heart.
(10) “Do not mistreat the little ones or treat them with contempt. There are angels in my Father’s throne room, who continually gaze upon his face and pray to him for those who are most in need of grace.” I am utterly for those who are weak in the world. They are precious in my sight. My Son told his hearers are a parable to make this point.
(12-14) “If a man owns 100 sheep, and just one of them becomes lost, does he not leave the 99 who are grazing and go and find the little one who is missing? When he finds that lost little one, he rejoices! He never lost the 99, but the one.” My child, I rejoice to welcome every little one into my kingdom. I do not want anyone to choose darkness over my kingdom. When you feel lost, listen for my voice, because I am calling out for you to return safely to my embrace.
(15-18) “Listen, relationships are essential to knowing my Father’s heart. When a rift develops between you and another, seek them out and talk it over, but do not stop there if it remains unresolved. Bring along a few trusted friends who know both of your hearts and may be able to offer some objectivity to your conflict. They can see the facts more clearly than either of you. If sin persists and continues to tear at the relationship, bring it before for the church. When such rifts occur, the rest of the body can feel it and its effects. If there is a consensus that this person’s actions constitute sin and they still hold to their righteousness, their presence in the gathered assembly may be dangerous, because they are acting at cross-purposes with the body. The person should be treated as a tax collector or non-believer.”
Some people have understood my Son’s words here to mean that unrepentant sinners should be shunned and avoided at all costs. No. My Son said they were to be treated as tax collectors and non-believers. It is essential for you to remember how my Son treated tax collectors and unbelievers. He pursued them. He wanted them to glimpse the greatness and glory of our kingdom.
Be cautious about premature confrontation. Too often in the church, leaders enact, “church discipline according to Matthew 18,” which is often a ruse for forced submission. Patience, humility, self-awareness, and other-centeredness are essential in the midst of conflict. I hate animosity between those who profess to follow my Son. One day, when we all gather in my kingdom, this will all make much better sense.
(19-20) “Remember, if two of you come to agreement, it pleases my Father in heaven and he will answer prayers that seek to demonstrate love. When a couple of people gather to live lives of love, I am behind that 100%. Indeed, my very Spirit will be with you.”
It is important that you do not disconnect verses 15 to 18 and 19 and 20. They are to be understood together as a call to love. In conflict, when my children gather and seek my will, which is love, I am there among them. Love, not self-centeredness, will always rule the day.
(21-22) Peter wanted to know the limits on forgiveness. For many people, it feels like a finite resource. He asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive someone who keeps sinning against me? Seven times?” Jesus replied, “Not seven, but 77 times.” My Son was not suggesting that you should keep a count. Through my prophet Jeremiah, I told you that I will not remember your sins. I want you to have the same mind. You were not created for revenge, but for mercy. When you witness a contrite heart, forgive.
(23-27) My Son told a parable to give weight to what he had just told Peter about forgiveness. “Think about the kingdom of heaven this way. There was a powerful king who wanted to settle up with his servants. As he worked through his accounts, a man was brought before him whose debt to him was colossal, equal to more than 5000 lifetimes of work. Naturally, the man was utterly unable to pay what he owed the king, so the master ordered the man and his family to be sold into slavery and all that he owned to be sold in payment toward unpaid debts. The man crumpled to the floor in tears and cried out for the mercy of the king. He boldly, but foolishly, claimed that if the king were patient, he would pay everything back. The merciful king, moved by the man’s sincerity, canceled the debt and released the man.”
(28-30) “But the man, forgetting the king’s infinite kindness and generosity failed to extend mercy to another. He met a man who owed him a few thousand dollars and he attacked the man. He was choking the man as he raged against him, ‘Pay me the money you owe me!’ The man begged for mercy, ‘Please be patient. I’ll pay you back.’ The servant was unmoved. In his anger, he had the man thrown into debtors’ prison.”
(31-33) “Some of the other servants saw what happened and they were incredulous. They went to the king to report what they had witnessed. The master once again called the first servant and said to him, ‘How could you be so wicked? After I graciously released you from a debt you could not repay if you worked every day for a million years, and you turned and attacked one of your co-workers for the meager sum he owed? Considering my infinite mercy, how could you not forgive such a small thing?’”
(34-35) “The king was angry at this injustice, so he threw the servant into debtors’ prison until he could pay back the full amount.”
My Son went on to help them see the parallels with my infinite goodness. When you fail to show mercy others, it tells me that you want nothing to do with my kingdom and I will let you have your way. It is the merciful who will populate the streets in my kingdom.
(1-2) When my Son had completed these teachings, he and his disciples traveled south and crossed the Jordan into Perea. The crowds gathered, and as was his practice, he healed them.
(3) The Pharisees were there too, hoping to corner my Son. They asked him, “Jesus, according to Moses’s law, can a man divorce his wife for whatever reason he chooses?” In fact, there was a debate, even among the Pharisees, whether divorce was permitted.
(4-6) My Son knew not just the law, but my heart as well. Rather than Mosaic Law, Jesus went back to the law of nature. He said to them, “Haven’t you read the creation accounts in Moses’s first book? What did he write? That God created people, he made them male and female and they should each leave their parents and become one with each other.” This was my creational intent. “If God’s intention was that they become one, to tear it apart is to dis-integrate God’s good creation.”
(7) The Pharisees pressed on: “If staying together was what God intended, then why did Moses say that we should give a certificate of divorce to them and send them out of the household?” This was a perfect example of how religious people operate from rule keeping rather than love. They were not interested in living according to my original intent, but only in what “the manual” said.
(8) Lamenting the brokenness of my image bearers, Jesus told them: “Moses permitted divorce because you are so hard-hearted, but that is not how it was meant to be. Marriage was designed to be a picture of love and wholeness, which is God’s good intent. But the evil of the fall affected everything. Your marriages were meant to be gardens filled with the blooms of marital love, but they became cesspools of self-centeredness. Homes became battlefields, with spouses wounding one another, verbally, emotionally, and physically. Even sexual intimacy developed into an utterly selfish experience rather than revealing the beauty of union.”
Beloved, it breaks my heart to see all the marital brokenness in the world. Couples coexist, but there is no real oneness between them. Without that sense of oneness and freedom with each other, so many things can go awry—adultery, lust, frigidity, bitterness, porn addictions, and ultimately a sense of isolation. Those things were never my intent.
(9) Jesus went on, “So if you divorce your spouse for any other reason than their sexual immorality and you marry somebody else, you commit adultery.”
(10) Not always great with nuance, the disciples concluded from Jesus’s thoughts regarding divorce that staying single would then be preferable, but that is old covenant thinking. The strategy of sin avoidance is never effective for long. Your higher call is to do all things from love, whether in marriage or not.
(11-12) Jesus clarified for them, “Guys, not everyone can hear the words, ‘Well, then don’t get married’ and take it to heart. There are some who have had no desire for sexual union at any time in their lives. Some have been castrated and are left with no desire. Some choose celibacy as kingdom citizens. Whatever your circumstance, live from a heart of love and not mere obedience, or its effects will not last.”
(13-15) The crowds also brought their children to my Son, hoping he would place his hands upon them and bless them. His disciples thought that Jesus had more important things to do, so they blocked the people, telling them that Jesus did not have time for their children, but Jesus looked at the disciples and said, “Do not prevent these parents from bringing their children to me. Let them all come because my Father’s kingdom is filled with both children and the child-like.” Once again, he wanted them to understand the upside-down nature of my kingdom, where the least are honored, but those who make much of themselves are the very least. My Son laid his hands on every child, extravagantly blessing each one.
(16-20) In contrast to the children, who were dependent upon the goodness of the adults, my Son was met by a man who seemed to have everything going for him. He came to my Son, saying, “Teacher, what good deed do I need to do to have eternal life?” My Son responded, “Why do you ask me what is good? God is good. If you want to spend eternity with God, keep his commandments.” The young man felt a surge of hope, because he had worked to closely follow my law, but he wanted to be sure, so he asked Jesus for clarification, “What laws must I keep?” Jesus listed several items from the moral law. “Don’t kill, steal, or lie. Treat your parents honorably. Love others as you love yourself.” With growing confidence, the young man said to Jesus, “I’ve done these things. Am I missing anything?”
People love checklist theology. They want to know what behaviors to check off to make themselves right with me, believing that if they try hard enough, I will give my stamp of approval. But listen, your standing with me is not based on your behavior.
(21-22) Jesus spoke again saying, “If you want to be perfect, you should do this: Sell all of your possessions, give the proceeds to the needy, and come follow me. Watch how I live. If you do that, your treasure will be eternal life with God.” On hearing Jesus, the young man’s shoulders slumped, the wind taken out of his sails. He had accumulated much wealth in the world and to even consider selling it was more than he could bear. It is not only rich people who are ensnared by their possessions. It is the human condition since the fall that people hold tightly to their own way and therefore cannot welcome me with open arms and empty hands.
(23-24a) Jesus turned again to his disciples and said to them, “Here’s the truth: It is really hard for rich people to get into the kingdom. Imagine a camel trying to fit through the eye of a needle. Do you have that image? It’s even more difficult than that.” The disciples pondered amongst themselves whether such a thing was even possible, or if Jesus meant something other than what seemed plainly impossible. You cannot grow in righteousness if you are clinging to other things whether they be wealth, relationships, or comfort.
(24b-25) Once again, the disciples were shocked at what Jesus said. They asked, “If that’s the case, is it possible for anyone to be saved?” Jesus’s imagery confronted their own hearts too.
(26) Jesus said in response, “For humans, by their own power, yes it’s impossible, but not with God. With him, all things are possible.” I want you to understand what my Son was saying here. He was not telling his disciples that simply invoking my name would give them the extra boost they needed to succeed at righteous living, he was telling them that they added nothing to their own standing in the kingdom. Your standing with me is wholly dependent upon my Son’s perfect righteousness.
(27-30) Hearing this, Peter replied confidently, “Look teacher, the twelve of us have given up everything to follow you, our families, jobs, and comfort. Since we have done that, what’s in store for us?” Jesus told the twelve, “In the new world, when all is restored and I am sitting on the throne of glory beside my Father, you who followed me will each be on your own thrones, judging the twelve tribes. Those who have recognized that their thirst for me cannot be quenched by people, places, or things and who have pursued me as their sustenance will find themselves utterly satisfied beyond any worldly expectation. But those who continue to seek after worldly pursuits to fill themselves will find that they are the least in the kingdom.”
Understand, neither Peter nor the other disciples had achieved perfection. As you keep reading the story, you will discover that they remain unsteady at best, but they kept on, knowing that their only hope was in my Son. Their status would not be based upon a cataloging of their righteous and unrighteous deeds. Like you, they were faced with one question: “Do you believe that Jesus loves you and wants to be with you?” Those who insist on going it alone will be granted their desire.
(1-16) What is my kingdom like? My Son offered another glimpse. “The kingdom is like a farmer who needed work done in the fields, so before the dawn, he went and found several people who were looking for work. He offered them a fair wage, so they accepted the job and went out to the fields. About 9:00 AM, the farmer saw several people hanging around the market doing nothing. He said, ‘If you are willing, go out into the fields, because there is plenty to be done. I will pay you fairly.’ They went also. The farmer did the same at noon and at 3:00 PM. He went one last time at 5:00 PM, and still found people who were not doing anything. When the farmer asked why, they replied, ‘No one has offered us work today.’ Even though the day was nearly done, the farmer hired them too. At the close of the workday, the farmer had his foreman call them all in to settle up, but instructed him to pay the last one hired first. The 5:00 workers were given a denarius, which was a day’s wage. As the workers came, each was given a denarius. When the workers who started at dawn and worked a twelve-hour day got to the foreman, they expected more than the denarius they were originally promised. When the foreman gave them each a denarius, they complained. Pointing to the last ones hired, they grumbled, ‘They only worked an hour, yet you paid them the same you paid us who worked all day in the heat.’ The farmer responded, ‘My friends, I have done you no wrong. Haven’t I done what I promised? I paid you exactly what you were eager to receive at the beginning of the day. Take it and go. It was my choice what to pay you and to pay everyone else. Isn’t it my money to do with as I please? Am I not allowed to be generous? The last are first and the first are last.”
My dear child, I know what stirs in you when you read this parable. You resonate with those who were hired first. The farmer’s choice to pay everyone the same regardless of how much they did offends your sense of justice and fairness. Jesus shared this story to reveal how much you are shaped by a mindset where your sense of fairness supersedes grace, but my kingdom runs on a never-ending flow of grace. Rather than shouting “It’s not fair,” respond with gratitude for all the grace I’ve shown you.
(17-19) Jesus and the disciples were on the way to Jerusalem to be there for Holy Week. He said to the twelve, “Men, we are going to Jerusalem. When we get there, the Son of Man will be handed over to the religious leaders. I will be tried and condemned to death, but before I am killed, the Romans will take me and assault me verbally and physically. I will then be hung on a cross to die, but I will be raised three days later.”
This was the third time Jesus had told them he would be crucified. Although they still could not believe that it would happen, they did not rebuke him this time. They sat silently, hoping and praying that my Son was deluded or being overly cautious because, in their minds, this was not how it was supposed to be.
(20-21) The mother of James and John approached Jesus with her sons. She knelt before Jesus, a sign of respect, clearly wanting to ask him something. My Son looked down at Salome and asked her, “What is it you want?” She replied, “Promise me that when you come into your kingdom, my two sons can sit on your right and left.” James and John flushed and stared at the ground, kicking at the dirt.
(22) Looking not to Salome, but to James and John, Jesus said, “You have no idea what you are asking of me. Do you think you are able to walk the same path that I am walking?” Naïvely, they said, “Yes, we are.” Though they had spent a few years with my Son, they did not fully understand what they were agreeing to. They still expected Jesus to be an earthly ruler and they desired places of prominence in his council, even if it meant some pain along the way. They had forgotten what he just said.
(23) Jesus replied, “Indeed, you will walk the same path I am, but I cannot grant what you ask of me. That is my Father’s prerogative, according to his preparations and plan.” My Son was clarifying that indeed, those who follow him will suffer.
(24-28) When the other ten caught wind of their request, they were incensed, not because James and John misunderstood my Son’s purpose, but because each of them thought the same thing. Jesus circled them up and said, “You all know what earthly kingdoms are like. Roman rulers dominate their citizens, controlling their very lives. I am telling you, don’t be that way. It is dehumanizing. Do you want to do great things in the kingdom of heaven? Great, here is what you should do: Become a servant. Seek downward mobility. If you want to be great, serve well and without expectation of reward. Even I came not to be served by others, but to be their servant. Indeed, in the ultimate act of service, I will give my life to pay the ransom for all humankind.”
My child, you will continually bump up against conflict between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of God. Remember, my kingdom operates differently than earthly kingdoms. Power is replaced by love; self-seeking gives way to other-centeredness.
(29-34) Jesus and his disciples left Jericho, a city northeast of Jerusalem. A large group followed them out of the city. As they walked, they happened upon two blind men sitting at the roadside. When these two men heard it was Jesus and cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” The rest of the crowd told them to be quiet, but the rebukes only strengthened their resolve, so they cried out even more. “Lord, be merciful to us!” Jesus stopped walking and called out to them, “What is it you want from me?” They replied, “Let us see.” Moved with compassion, he drew near and touched their eyes. At once, they could see, and seeing, they followed him.
(1-3) They continued walking toward Jerusalem and came to the village of Bethphage, next to the Mount of Olives. Jesus had friends in this town. He sent two of his disciples into town, instructing them to find a donkey with her colt. He asked that they both be brought to him. He added that if anyone questioned them, they were simply to say, “The Lord needs them,” and they would be sent with a blessing.
My Son’s reputation preceded him. The people of Bethphage liked Jesus and were willing to help. So even though they did not know the disciples well, they knew Jesus and were glad to send the donkey and her colt.
(4-9) The donkey was brought to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. He wrote,
Say to Zion’s daughter,
see your king is coming
humbly and riding a donkey
even on her colt, a young beast of burden.
The two went ahead to carry out Jesus’s instruction. They brought the two animals, threw their coats on the young one’s back, and Jesus sat upon it. The crowd put their cloaks on the road and they cut palm branches, which they laid upon the path. This was red carpet treatment for the entering king. They shouted praises and petitions as he rode. “Save us, Son of David! The one who comes as the Lord’s representative is truly blessed! Save us to the uttermost!”
My Son knew that although they praised the right person, they were doing so for the wrong reasons. He came to save, but not as they expected. They anticipated a benevolent, glorious king who would set up an everlasting kingdom on earth, where Israel would rule. They were strongly nationalistic. Nationalism is a recurrent misunderstanding of the way of Jesus; people imagining a triumphalist Jesus who favors one nation above all others. That is not the kingdom my Son came to establish; he came to break down barriers between nations and people.
(10-11) His entrance into Jerusalem stirred the whole city. Seeing the crowds, the people were asking “Who is this who deserves such an honorific welcome?” and they were told that my Son was a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.
(12-13) Jesus entered the temple and took in the scene. Everywhere he looked, there were charlatans, taking advantage of the pilgrims who had no choice but to submit to manipulation. His anger flared. Without hesitation, he went to those who were fleecing the pilgrims and flipped their tables over, knocking their “certified pure” religious objects and their impure earnings all about. They looked at him with shock and indignation. He said, “The prophet Isaiah wrote, ‘my house shall be for prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves.”
My Son was angry about this unrighteous manipulation. My temple was to be a place where worshippers from all over could come and be on equal footing before me, but these men were taking advantage of those with lesser means. He was right to toss their tables in defense of my justice.
(14-17) When he was in the temple, many suffering people came to him and he healed them. The temple robbers took advantage of others for their own gain, whereas my Son gave of himself for the benefit of others. As he loved and served the people who came to him, they responded with gratitude. The children would cry out, “Hosanna to David’s Son,” continued echoes of his triumphal entry. The chief priests and the theologians were indignant. They came to Jesus and with accusation in their voice said, “Do you hear what they are saying?” To their mind, Jesus should have rebuked the children swiftly. But my Son responded, a smile upon his face, “Oh, yes, I have. Have you never read, ‘upon the lips of infants and toddlers, you have formed songs of praise’?” He did not stay to debate, but left Jerusalem for Bethany where he stayed with his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.
(18-22) The following day, Jesus returned to Jerusalem. He became hungry along the way and seeing a fig tree, he went over to it, but found no figs. Jesus said to the tree, “May no figs ever grow on your branches again.” As the disciples stood watching, the leaves began to wither. They were stunned. His words affected the very life of the tree, so they asked, “Master, how could that even happen?” He reminded them once again about the importance of faith. “If you have confident faith, you will be able to do even greater things. You could command a mountain to jump into the sea, and it would happen. Great faith in my Father’s plan and trust in his goodness leads to amazing things.”
(23-27) My Son resumed teaching in the temple. When he arrived, the religious leaders came to him again and asked, “Who gave you permission to come here and teach? By whose authority do you perform signs?” Jesus responded, “I will answer you, but only if you first answer my question. The baptism of John, where did it come from? Heaven or man?” They withdrew a short distance and debated among themselves, “If we say ‘heaven,’ he will ask why we didn’t believe him, but if we say ‘man,’ the crowd’s anger will be stirred because they believed John was God’s prophet. They came back to Jesus and said, “We don’t know.” True to his word, Jesus did not answer their question.
Notice that their response was not dictated by what was true but based upon how they thought people would respond. The religious leaders were less concerned about the truth of my word than they were about their own reputations. My prophet Jeremiah anticipated religious people pleasers. He referred to them saying, “They have healed my people lightly saying ‘peace, peace’ where there is no peace.” The chief priests wanted to keep the crowd calm, even if the message was false. People in every generation are afraid to say what is true if it might lead to upsetting others. When you face this temptation, remind yourself to hold fast to what is true and to proclaim it with humility and love.
(28-32) My Son shared a parable with them, to reveal their hearts. “Consider this: There was a man with two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘I need you to go work in the fields today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I’ve got better things to do,’ but as he thought about it, he changed his mind and went to work for the day. The father instructed the second son to go and work and he responded eagerly, ‘Yes, sir!’ but he never went.” Jesus then posed a question: “Which son did the father’s will?” The answer seemed obvious to them, “the first.” Upon hearing their response, Jesus connected it back to them. “Listen, here is what is true: The people you consider irredeemable—prostitutes, tax collectors, and ‘sinners’—they will walk ahead of you into heaven’s kingdom. Here is why: John came to reveal what true kingdom righteousness was all about and these sinners whom you deplore understood what he was saying and turned their hearts back to the Father. But you have witnessed the miraculous and still you remain stubbornly unmoved.” Hearing how my Son connected the parable to them, their anger was rekindled. They believed that anyone who questioned their righteousness was clearly anti-God. I want you to turn to me in love. In the presence of my love, you are enabled to love others, which is my will for you.
(33) He shared another story. “There was a landowner with much land and many servants. He wanted a vineyard, so he planted many vines and cared for them. He fenced it off to keep the animals out. He constructed a wine press, and he built a lookout tower. Because his lands were expansive, he needed to travel for long periods of time to another country. He leased the vineyard to tenants who would take care of the plants and keep them safe in his absence. They would be able to keep a significant percentage of the proceeds as a part of the arrangement.”
(34-41) “When the time for harvest came, the landowner sent servants to the vineyard to gather his share of the grapes, but when they arrived, the tenants severely beat one of them, stoned one of them, and killed another. Unsettled, the landowner sent more servants, but the tenants repeated their evil. The landowner was angry. He sent his son to put his authority behind his demand, thinking ‘they will respect him,’ but as the tenants watched from the tower and saw the son approaching, their warped thinking led them to say to one another, ‘If we kill him, the landowner will have no heir for his fortune, so naturally, the vineyard will be ours.’ When the Son arrived with his father’s request, they seized him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and killed him too.”
In a story like that one, it is easy to see the evil effects of twisted thinking. The religious leaders had no trouble understanding what would happen. They told my Son that the landowner should take those wretched men and put them to a painful death, leasing the vineyard to more trustworthy tenants. Stories often become clear when you hear them from a different perspective. Sometimes, you need to see things with fresh eyes for them to make sense.
(42a) Knowing their deep knowledge of my word, my Son asked ironically, “Have you never read the scriptures?” The religious leaders were sure they understood my word better than anyone else, which fueled their religious pride. Such haughty certainty has always been a problem amongst religious leaders.
(42b) He quoted them Psalm 118:22-23
The stone the builders rejected
has become the corner stone.
This is the Lord’s doing
and it is a marvelous sight!
My Son is the cornerstone upon which the church is built. In fact, the entire cosmos is about him. The restoration of all things is happening because of him. He is the point. Isn’t that marvelous?
(43-44) He continued on, saying to the scribes and chief priests, “The kingdom that you think belongs to you is being mismanaged. It will be taken from you and given to those who are producing good fruit, the fruit of love. And when you trip on the stone, it is you and not the stone that will be broken. And if the stone falls on you, it is you who will be crushed.” My Son was making the point that their religious tradition and false righteousness were no match for true righteousness found only in him.
(45-46) The religious leaders were again incensed, knowing that Jesus was speaking about them. They deeply desired to arrest him, to put a stop to his teaching, but they were hindered by their fear of the crowds who believed he was a prophet.
(1-6) Jesus shared yet another parable. “God’s kingdom is like a king who gave a huge banquet to celebrate his son’s wedding. He pulled out all the stops. The king sent his servants into his kingdom to tell all those who had been invited that it was time to celebrate, but they would not come. Unthwarted, he sent more of his servants to those invited with this message: ‘Dinner is prepared. Roasted ox and lamb, trays of delicacies, desserts as far as the eye can see. It is more than you could possibly eat. Come.’ Yet despite the invitation, they paid the king no mind. One man went back to his farm and another to his business, everyone making excuses for why they could not be there. Some, tired of the king’s requests, mocked the servants and even killed them.”
(7-10) “The king was livid. Not only had they failed to honor their RSVP, but they had acted with evil toward his servants. Rather than servants, he sent soldiers and destroyed the murderers, even burning their cities and villages to the ground. Still, the feast remained ready, so the king said to his remaining servants, ‘The banquet is still prepared, but those I invited rejected me. They do not deserve to celebrate my joy with me, but still there is all this food. I want you to go out and invite as many people as you can find on the roads and in the towns. Bring whoever is willing to come. I do not care if they are high society or homeless, bad or good, just bring them. On that directive, they packed out the banquet hall.”
(11-14) “As the king mingled about at the party, he happened upon a man who was not wearing a wedding garment. The stunned king said, ‘Friend, you aren’t wearing a wedding garment. How did you get in?’ The man stood speechless.”
I want you to understand what my Son was communicating regarding the man with no garment. In his graciousness, the king invited a huge variety of people to this elegant affair. Knowing that not everyone would have the proper attire for such an event, the king even provided clothing for all of them. Though this man accepted the invitation, he thought he would be fine without the king’s clothing, and that if he were just himself, there would be no problem. When the king addressed him, he could give no answer, because he chose to ignore the king’s expectation to wear the garment.
The garment is my Son’s righteousness. Everyone is welcome in my kingdom, but you will not get in on your own. It is only by accepting the gift of my Son’s purity, righteousness, and sacrifice that you will be welcome. You cannot do it by “just being you.” Indeed, as my Son finished the parable, he told his hearers how hopeless life would be without his gift. Those who willingly reject my Son, reject love, and life outside of love is misery, isolation, and darkness. So, my child, wear his cloak and come on in.
(15-17) As their anger increased, the Pharisees began scheming about ways to trap my Son in his words. They were so invested in proving him wrong that they teamed up with the Herodians, a group of people who were seeking political advancement by aligning themselves with Herod’s family. They came to Jesus and said, voices dripping with false respect, “Teacher, we know that you are committed to teaching God’s word faithfully and that you do not change your message to cater to opinions. So, please answer this question for us: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” They were attempting to place him squarely between a rock and a hard place, because if he said yes, it would anger the people who were already stirred up about Rome’s occupation in Judea. If he said no, they could tell the Roman officials that he was a law breaker. Either way, they won.
(18-22) But Jesus knew their devious hearts. “Why are you testing me, hypocrites? Show me a coin.” He took it and turned it over in his hand. “Whose picture is on this coin?” They responded, “Caesar’s.” Then he said, “Then pay to Caesar what is owed to Caesar and to God what is God’s.” Despite what they expected would be an airtight riddle, they left feeling dumbstruck by his answer, because he had not incriminated himself.
(23-28) Later that day, several Sadducees also came to him with a question. “Rabbi, Moses wrote that if a husband were to die, but he had no children, it was his brother’s duty to marry her so that the family name would be carried on. Imagine this happened repeatedly through a family of seven brothers, and she had children with none of them. After all the men died, she eventually died too. If the resurrection is a real thing” —the Sadducees denied the resurrection— “then whose wife would she be?” In their minds, this was a significant stumbling block to believing in the resurrection, because they were not thinking that my ways might be higher than their own ways of understanding.
(29-30) Jesus answered, “Your error comes from knowing neither the word of God, nor the power of the God behind the word. You will not live as you currently do, as married men and women. In the resurrection kingdom, you will live lives of supernatural love with all who are there, much like the angels who attend my Father.”
I want to clarify something. Sometimes people who do not know what my word says believe that when people die, they become angels. They don’t. Angels and people are different entities. You will become like angels, glorified and living in union with the Trinity and one another.
(31-33) Jesus went on, “As for the resurrection from the dead, remember what my Father said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’” When he said these words, he did not say I was their God in the past-tense, but that even now I am their God. I am not the God of death, but of life. Once again, the listening crowd was astonished at his teaching.
(34-40) None of them—the Pharisees, Herodians, or Saduccees—could trick my Son. His wisdom always bested them. He is, as my servant Dallas Willard would often say, “the smartest man who ever lived.” Nevertheless, the Pharisees came back again. One of them, who was an expert in the law, wanted to test my Son’s knowledge, so he posed the question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Without hesitation, my Son answered, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. “You are to love the Lord God with your whole being—heart, soul, and mind. This is the first, and most essential command,” but he continued, “There is a second that is directly tied to it: ‘You are to love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ God’s entire word—the law and the prophets—can be summarized in these two commands.”
My child, I am committed to helping you understand who I am and what I am all about. Love is my defining essence. The Trinity is a never-ending flow of love between my Son, my Spirit, and me. Our love is so core to who we are that we are completely inseparable. I am complete wholeness, oneness, and love. As my precious child who very DNA bears my image, you too are invited into our dance of love. My law can be summarized as loving up, down, in, and out. Life with me is truly all about love.
(41-42) With the Pharisees gathered around him, Jesus asked a question in return. “So, what do you think about the Christ, the Messiah? Whose son is he?” Knowing the scriptures, they shared what they believed to be a settled understanding, “David’s son.” Sometimes, when you fail to have all of scripture in view, your understanding, while partially accurate, is incomplete.
(43-44) My Son pressed them, saying, “How is it then that David himself, in one of his psalms said, ‘The LORD said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?’”
David’s first LORD referred to me, Yahweh, the great I AM. If you have paid attention in the Old Testament, you may have noticed that sometimes the word “lord” is written in all capital letters. It sets me apart as the great and holy I AM. David went on, “…says to my Lord,” which is Jesus. In other words, “God, the Father, said to the Messiah, ‘Sit at my right hand,’” which was the position of honor. David acknowledged that the Christ would be greater than him, indeed greater than all.
(45-46) He then posed the question, “If David called the Messiah ‘Lord,’ how is it possible that he was his son?” They could not answer him. In fact, they did not dare ask any more questions. They could not understand that Messiah, my Son Jesus, could be completely human and thus David’s son, and fully divine, and thus greater than all. You cannot understand my Son if you do not grasp that he is fully incarnate and fully God.
(1-3) Jesus addressed the crowd that had gathered together with his disciples, saying, “The Pharisees are experts in the Mosaic Law. They know better than almost anyone what Moses said and wrote down, so put into practice what they teach, but do not model your lives after theirs, because they fail to practice what they preach.” My Son was not opposed to the law I handed down to Moses. He was opposed to hypocrisy, which flows from fallen human hearts and a twisted understanding of my Word.
(4) “The Pharisees take Moses’s tablets and keep adding rocks, burdening you beyond hope. They lay this pack upon your shoulders, pressing you to the ground, but they do nothing to assist you.” They completely missed my law of love. They gave rules and left the people alone to manage them.
(5-7) “They are all about image management. The do ‘good deeds’ not from a godly heart, but so that others will take notice of them. They dress the part.” They would wear leather cases hanging from their hats filled with my word right at eye level attempting to literally obey Moses’s command. They wore long fringes on their clothes to remind people of their holiness.
“They would also assume places of respect. They loved to be celebrated by others, and to be seen in the best seats in the synagogue. They craved the praise of others who would use the honorific title, ‘Rabbi,’ which was reserved for exceptional teachers and means ‘my lord.’”
(8-10) “My friends, avoid this lust for power and influence. I do not want you to call anyone rabbi, nor accept the title from anyone else. I am your only true teacher. All other men and women are on equal standing in my kingdom. Do not look to another person as a spiritual father or mother, and so displace the one who is truly upon the throne, your Father in heaven. Don’t elevate yourself as an instructor, demanding that your ‘students’ submit to your teachings. There is only one instructor, the Christ.”
Throughout the history of the church, the elevation of one person above all others has repeatedly played out. The lust for recognition and power is addictive. But my kingdom operates a different way, a better way.
(11-12) “If you want to be the greatest in heaven’s kingdom, live to serve others. If you choose to make much of yourself, you will fall mightily from your pedestal. If you humble yourself as a servant, you will be honored in God’s kingdom.” Remember, the kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom.
(13-14) My Son continued, sharing what are often called the seven woes—direct, honest, stinging criticisms of how the religious elite choose to live their lives in opposition to my kingdom. This collection of denunciations stands in contrast with my Son’s “blessings,” or beatitudes, in Matthew 5.
“Woe to you, Pharisees and scribes. You are hypocrites! You slam the doors of heaven’s kingdom in peoples’ faces. God’s door is open, but you block passage for them and for yourself. You expect them to navigate an impossibly complex path of your own creation to find the door. You trample on my Father’s gracious welcome.”
(15) “Again, I say woe, you hypocritical religious leaders. Your recruitment efforts are robust. You will go anywhere to pursue a new disciple, but do you understand what you are recruiting them for? Hell’s kingdom, where they will live under the stress of your burdens rather than in the freedom of God’s grace.”
(16-22) “Woe to you! You are blind, even though you think you see clearly. You completely misunderstand oaths. You believe that it is the gifts that are offered in the temple that bind an oath, but that entirely misses the point. Nothing material secures an oath, but it is my Father. He is what the temple is all about. When you take an oath, just hold to your word because that is what the people of God do. They are trustworthy because they love God and know that they are loved by him. There is no need for them to dress up their word with some material promise.”
(23-24) “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees. You obsessively give your ten percent tithe, all the way down to the spices in your cupboards, yet you ignore much more important parts of God’s law. You fail to practice justice and mercy. You live faithless lives, relying instead on your strict adherence to the rules. If you want to do well, honor the tithe, but not to the exclusion of becoming people of character. In your relentless obsession over even the minutest of rules, you completely miss the whole story line. Open your eyes that you might see!” Child, I know this tendency exists in you as well. You wrestle over whether to watch an R-rated movie, but at the same time, you do not give a second thought to judging those who live differently than you do. Seek to live a life of love in big and small ways.
(25-26) “Woe to you, hypocritical leaders. You meticulously perform every religious duty to ensure that you are ‘clean’ according to Moses’s Law. You even take extra steps and make extra rules for yourself and others, just to ensure that you are in full compliance in how you behave. But your insides—your heart, the core of who you are—remains untouched by all your ceremonies. You are still proud and self-centered, seeking your own glory. You are utterly missing the point. You fail to open your eyes to see God’s true purpose in the law. Deal with your heart. If you deal with your insides, your behavior will follow suit, just as if you focus on washing the inside of a mug, the outside will be clean too.”
Beloved, this is where things so often get twisted. You focus your effort on behaving according to how you understand my “rules,” but you know from living life how impossible it feels to always keep your behaviors in check. Instead, turn your heart to me, moment by moment, and let the behaviors take care of themselves.
(27-28) “Again, I say woe to you. You are actors, putting on a religious show. You play your parts well. You wear your Sabbath best. You use lots of God-words so that others will believe you are righteous, but my Father knows you wear only a costume. You perform your shows, outwardly appearing beautiful, yet inside you are full of death and rot. Your hearts are unclean. Others may look at you and see a person who has it all together, but your outsides do not match your insides, where lawlessness prevails.”
Child, what I hate most is hypocrisy, because it mixes lying and religious pride. You claim to represent me, but your heart is turned in another direction. Be authentic with who you are and what is going on. If you cannot reveal your true self to me, yourself, or others, you cannot receive true healing.
(29-32) “Woe, you hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. Your pride and your poor self-awareness are astounding! You build elaborate tombs and monuments honoring God’s prophets and you tell one another that if you had lived in the days of old, you would have followed God and listened to the prophets. Don’t you realize that you are the descendants of those who killed the prophets? What makes you think you would act any differently? You would do the very same thing.” The scribes and Pharisees were fond of assuming their own capacities for righteousness. So are you. If you ever find yourself thinking or saying, ‘Well, I never would have…,’ beware, because that pride comes before a great fall. You have within you the capacity to be murderous, just like your ancestors before you.
(33-36) “You bunch of snakes, you slither about in your self-righteousness. How do you plan to escape hell? Throughout the generations, I sent representatives to proclaim truths about the kingdom—prophets, wise men, and experts in the law. And what do you do? Some you follow around criticizing and condemning. Some you attack physically. You even go so far as to kill and crucify some of them because you are so certain about your own righteousness. What you fail to see is that you are actually murdering the righteous ones and their blood is on your hands—all the way from Abel to Zechariah, A to Z. Pay attention: this is not something that will happen someday, but it will happen in this very generation.”
I hate self-righteous religiosity. The Pharisees and scribes were certain they understood me, and in their pride, they would persecute and even kill those who did not fall in line with their way of thinking. Heresy hunters are so committed to being right, they fail to act in love.
I want you to notice one other small detail in verse 34, which is quite significant. My Son said, “I send you prophets and wisemen…” He did not say, “My Father sends you prophets and wisemen…” He was self-identifying as God.
(37-38) With great emotion, my Son lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the holy city that attacks and kills those who come with God’s truth. How often have I wished to pull you all together in one brood, as a hen cares for her chicks? But again and again, you have resisted love, pecking and clawing at one another. Look around; there is no unifying love. All I see are competing factions each committed to being right, and things are falling apart.”
I continue to feel great sorrow about the divisions and haughtiness I see around the world and especially in my church. This is not how it is supposed to be. You bicker like children about who is right. That is not loving. Live from a place of love, not self-righteousness.
(39) Jesus finished this particular teaching by telling his hearers that they would no longer see him until the people would welcome him with the words of Psalm 118, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The people had used these words during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem just days before, but when he one day returns in his full glory, that shout shall be heard world-wide.
(1-2) My Son and his disciples were leaving for the day and as they left, his disciples marveled at the temple. Growing up in small towns, the temple was a symbol of beauty and strength. They said to one another how magnificent it was. Jesus said to them, “Friends, listen, there is not one rock here that will remain intact; This entire building will be destroyed.” They were incredulous. How could such a symbol of divine presence and power not last forever? But they failed to understand that the truly magnificent temple exists within my image bearers.
(3-5) Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, outside Jerusalem. His disciples were stirred by his words about the temple, so they came to him asking, “Lord, when will these things happen? How will we know when you are coming back?” Jesus answered, “I want you to be wise, because many deceivers and charlatans will come claiming that they are the savior. Many people will fall for their messages.”
My child, I have no doubt you see this as you look around you. People who claim to be particularly enlightened and who say they have the key to my kingdom. In extreme cases, they lead cults, and many people suffer and die at their hands. But there are so many deceivers from my true message, you need to pay careful attention.
(6-8) My Son continued, “Although I want you to be vigilant, I do not want you to overinterpret the signs. You will hear about wars happening. You may even see them. Do not become alarmed, these conflicts are sadly commonplace in a sinful world. Kingdoms will fight one another, and nations will go to war. Natural disasters will become commonplace—famines, floods, and earthquakes—all around the world. This is only the beginning.”
I know that you have heard from “end-times prophets.” These self-proclaimed experts try to match my word with what they see in the world, and they lead many people astray, bilking them out of money and peace. Do not listen to them. They have no idea what they are talking about.
(9) “People who follow me will be persecuted and killed, refused basic human rights, and hated world-wide. People do not trust love and other-centeredness for long.”
These stories appear in the news every week. Churches burned, Christians killed, and truth dismissed. Martyrdom and persecution are inevitable in a disintegrating world.
(10-12) “The destruction will come not only from the outside, but the inside as well. Many people will abandon their faith and stop following me. People who claim to love me and one another will stab each other in the back and will come to hate each other. There will be many who claim to hold the message of truth, but they are liars and deceivers. People will develop a thirst for immorality and self-centeredness, and because of their me-first mentality, their love for one another will grow cold.”
When you look at the global church today, what do you see? There are surely places where love and service burn brightly, but there is also much pain. Bodies of believers breaking apart. Pastors develop vibrant messages and heart-stirring worship, but all they care about is controlling people, not loving them. You read more and more stories about narcissistic and abusive leaders, taking advantage of the weak and powerless. They rob people of their innocence, freedom, and joy.
(13) Jesus went on, “But keep walking my path of love. When you fall in a pothole, keep going. When people set traps for you, keep going. When people attack you, keep going, because you will find salvation at the end.”
(14) “Despite all these tribulations, the good news of the kingdom will be carried forth into all of the world. All nations will hear what my kingdom is like, and then all shall be finished, and a new chapter will begin.” Keep walking, loving, and telling people about me. Keep your eyes on me and tell everyone what you see.
(15-21) “When you see the abomination standing in the holy place, that embodied evil will spit on all that is good and holy, including those who live for my Father. When that happens, flee to safety so that you might preserve your lives. Do not sit and contemplate what to pack—just go, and do not look back. You may find yourself hesitating because of your circumstances. ‘Oh, it’s winter, let’s wait for nicer weather.’ ‘I’m expecting. I’ll wait until the baby is weaned.’ ‘It’s the Sabbath, we’ll go after worship.’ No, just go…flee. The pain and destruction in those days will be more agonizing than anything that has ever been.”
My child, until my Son returns in full glory to set all things right, there will be horrible tribulations. Your human tendency is to say to yourself, “It’s not that bad,” but you minimize the effects of evil, just as you misunderstand the full power of love. Do not toy with evil; it will destroy you.
(22) If I allowed evil to run its full course, everyone would be lost, but because I am merciful, I will cut short the days, for the sake of my people.
(23-24) “Many people will come to you promising salvation or a special message from my Father. They will even do and say things that seem miraculous. The evil one will use anyone and do anything he can to lead people into darkness and despair, even my people. Do not be tricked. Remember who I am. Remember whose you are.”
Beloved, do not be deceived. Evil is present throughout your world. I want you to be shrewd and know that my Holy Spirit is with you to teach you and lead you. Pay attention to him; He will remind you of what is good, true, and beautiful.
(25-28) My Son told his disciples, and you through them, about these things ahead of time so that you might be prepared. “Some might say, ‘He’s out in the desert,’ or ‘He’s at that church.’ Do not believe it. When the Son of Man comes, there will be no mistaking it, because he will shine brighter than the sun. You know how to read the signs. Where there is death, there are signs of death, like circling vultures. Where there is life, there are signs of life, like the radiance of the Son of Man.” The conflict between light and dark has raged on a cosmic level. Satan tries to deceive you by pretending that his darkness is light, but you, beloved, can see the true light. Live in the light.
(29-31) “As those days of evil appear, and deceivers gain power and prestige, darkness will prevail. Everywhere you look will seem like darkness to you. You may despair at the absence of goodness and beauty. You may find yourself crying out in lament, wondering if God even cares or if he is real. But then hints of Messiah’s arrival will appear, and every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth will mourn the evil they see and the evil they have done, because it is only by the light of the Son of Man that you can clearly discern evil. Then he will appear with grandeur, glory, and light. There will be no mistake that he is the one who comes to make all things new again. He will send legions of angels to gather his people from the whole earth, welcoming them to his kingdom.”
In that day, you will finally see the stark difference between darkness and light. You will understand that they cannot dwell together. When I open your eyes to unadulterated beauty, it is only then that you will truly understand the darkness of evil.
(32-33) “Because you pay attention, you understand how trees work. Learn from them. In the springtime, bright green leaves emerge. Then you know summer is on the way. So it is with my kingdom. Watch for the signs.” Be vigilant. Practice watching for changes in the world, and in culture, getting ready for those changes.
(34-35) Jesus went on, “Pay attention. I am telling you that this very generation will not die until these signs appear. Everything you have hung your hat on will pass on; my words will not.”
Less than 40 years later, my temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army in the first siege of Jerusalem. Over 1 million people, mostly Jewish, were killed, which indeed was a cause for great lament among my people, just as my Son said would happen.
(36) Despite my Son’s apocalyptic concerns, he could not tell them when these things would happen, even though they wanted to know. People always want answers. My Son said, “No one knows the exact day and hour for these things. Not even I do, but only the Father.” This verse is often confusing to people who are trying to understand my Son. He is fully God, yes, but he is also fully human and, in his incarnation,, he self-limited his knowledge of certain things.
(37-44) “Do you remember the story of Noah? He was preparing for destruction, while the people watched and laughed at him as they partied and practiced immorality. Even as Noah and his family went onto the ark, they still believed he was crazy, but when the flood waters came, they were swept away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man comes. No one will be expecting it. Men will be working together—one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be preparing dinner, and one will be taken while the other is left behind, so pay attention, because you do not know when I will return. If a rich man knew a thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and protected his household. You must ready yourselves like that because you never know when I will return.”
Live in such a way that whether it is today or 50 years from now, you will not be found unaware. Do not live with the mindset that you can always change later. All you have is right now. Live for me in this moment.
(45) “Who is the faithful servant in the master’s house? Who shows wisdom? Who does the master trust to take care of things? It is the one who lives and loves every day, all in service to the master’s kingdom, who will be blessed. It is the trustworthy worker who will be given honor in the kingdom.”
“On the flipside, the wicked servant cares nothing for the master, but only for himself. When the master is absent, he parties and takes advantage of the master’s estate. He mistreats his fellow servants, all for his own gain. When the master returns unexpectedly and finds the wicked servant practicing evil, he will allow evil to take complete hold. Evil tears people to pieces. It disintegrates the very core of who they are. The master will allow them their own way.”
Child in each moment, you have a choice for wholeness or brokenness, a choice for love or a choice for evil. You do not know what tomorrow brings, so live with love and wholeness in this moment.
(1-13) My Son shared another parable. “Heaven’s Kingdom will be like ten virgins eagerly awaiting their wedding night. Each took her lamp and went to meet the groom, but five were foolish and five were wise. The wise women brought extra oil, whereas the foolish ones did not. The groom was running behind, so the women slept. At midnight, a cry arose, ‘Here comes the groom! Come meet him!’ The women all went to light their lamps, but the foolish women’s lamps were out of fuel. The wise women retorted, ‘There is only enough for us. Go to the vendors and buy more.’ The five foolish women hurried away, but while they were gone, the bridegroom arrived and brought the five into the marriage feast. When the unprepared women arrived, they begged for entrance, but they were denied.”
Do not be unprepared. You do not know when my Son will return to fully reconcile heaven and earth. Be ready. Live for me moment by moment. When you stumble, get back up. I cannot wait to see you face to face.
(14-23) Jesus told another heaven story. “Heaven will be like a man who went on a long trip and left his servants in charge of house and estate. He left one of them in charge of five million dollars, another in charge of two million, and the third in charge of one million, telling them that he wanted them to manage his assets just as he would while he was gone. The first servant took a risk with the money and made another five million. So too with the servant entrusted with two million, doubling his amount. But the third servant, entrusted with one million, hid the money away for safe keeping.
After many years, the master returned and called together his servants who were charged with managing his wealth. The first and second each explained how they had doubled the money. To each, the master said, ‘Good work. You acted and put my wealth to work, just as I would have done. I am keeping you in my service and putting you in charge of much more. You are both trustworthy and responsible.’”
(24-28) “The master came to final servant, who said to him, ‘Master, I remembered every day how harsh and demanding you are. You have taken advantage of others and taken credit for their work. I was afraid to face your wrath, so I played it safe. I hid the one million you gave me because I was afraid of what would happen if I lost it all.’ The master was furious. He said, ‘You are wicked and lazy. You just told me that you know how I operate and that I will do anything to make a buck. Knowing that, you should have at least put the money in the bank where it would have been safe, but I would have at least made a bit of interest. I cannot have servants working for me who are unwilling to take a risk. Give his million to the first servant. Let us see what he can do with it.’”
(29-30) “The one who has returned on kingdom investment will have even more than expected. Those who are afraid to risk will find themselves empty handed, kicked out of the estate, and begging for scraps in the darkness.”
The parables are metaphors for my kingdom, not mimeographs of me. They are meant to give you a glimpse of how to live as kingdom citizens. For example, I do not reap where I did not sow nor gather where I did not plant. Everything is mine. My Son wanted his disciples, and you, to be alive in the kingdom. Take risks. Live big. Do not huddle anxiously in a corner, afraid of what I might do or think. I have entrusted you with great things—take a risk and trust that I see and celebrate what is done for my kingdom. You will not be sure of everything, but put yourself out there.
(31-40) “When the Son of man comes back, clothed in glorious splendor, surrounded by heaven’s hosts, he will sit upon his throne of glory, perfect in goodness, truth, and beauty. The people from every nation will be there before him, and they will be separated, as a shepherd separates a sheep from goats. The king on his throne will say to those on his right—the sheep— ‘Come on in. You have been blessed by the Father. The kingdom is yours. Come in and enjoy the feast that has been prepared. You have lived lives of love and other-centeredness. You loved the less fortunate, and in doing so, you loved me.’ The people on the right will ask, ‘When did we do these things?’ The king will respond, ‘Every single time you have given yourself for those in need, you were serving me.’”
(41-46) “The king turned to those on his left, saying, ‘Get out. You have no place in my kingdom if you want to live self-centered lives. I have watched how you live. You have ignored the strangers and those who do not fit in. You saw people clothed in rags with no way to obtain new clothing, but rather than giving them some of the clothes from your overstuffed closets, you offered them only judgment. You saw sick people and rather than tending to them, you thought that if only they would take care of themselves, they would be healthy. And what about the prisoners? You have looked down on them from your high horse, judging rather than loving them.’ If you do not yet understand what my kingdom is about, you never will. You want to make it all about you—a self-centered, self-glorifying kingdom, but it is not. Mine is a kingdom built upon love and service. You may believe you have done well, but I see how you have judged and dismissed my image bearers. If you insist on living in the kingdom of self, I will send you on your way. You can be the mayor of pain and suffering, tormented daily by your own self-centeredness. Eternal life is with me, but you won’t get there if you insist on being king.”
(1-2) Jesus finished his sayings and parables and he said to his followers, “Two days from now is the Passover. I will be delivered up to be crucified.” Every time he said this, a wave of terror and disbelief gripped his disciples. They had witnessed the visible evidence of the cruelty of Roman crucifixion. It remained unbelievable that such a thing could happen to their teacher and friend.
(3-5) While my Son was telling his disciples what would happen, the Jewish high council was plotting against Jesus in the high priest’s palace. They worked together to develop a plan to arrest and kill my Son, but they wanted to do it quietly because they did not want to stir up the people.
Throughout the generations, religious leaders have often dealt quietly, but aggressively with those whom they consider subversive or threatening to the religious establishment. Religious leaders may not kill those who do not fall in line anymore, but they certainly destroy their spirit and cripple their love for me.
(6-7) Jesus and his disciples were back in Bethany, where they were spending Holy Week. They gathered at Simon the Leper’s house, a man my Son had healed. As they were reclining around the table, Mary came and poured an expensive bottle of perfume on his head in a sign of lavish gratitude.
In John’s gospel, you read that Mary poured the oil on his feet and wiped it off with her hair. Child, do not let this seeming inconsistency distract you from the point of the story—Mary’s generosity, which led to anger among the disciples.
(8-10) As the disciples watched Mary “waste” this ointment, they could not believe their eyes. They grumbled, “What an absolute waste! She could have sold the perfume for a lot of money and we could have given it to the poor.” Mary cowered at their words, immediately feeling the sting of shame. She had acted out of love for Jesus, but the disciples’ response made her feel foolish.
(11-13) My Son quickly dealt with their evil, saying “Why are trying to cause trouble for this woman? What she did to me is lavish and beautiful, the outflow of a heart of love. There will always be poor and needy people among you, and even if you have all the money in the world and give it all away, you will still come up short. Mary loved me right in the present moment, and trusting what I said about my impending death, she was getting a head start on preparing me for burial. Wherever the good news is shared, people will hear about her because she is such a good example of other-centered love.”
Many believers are suspicious of extravagance and beauty because it seems to them a poor use of resources. Child, you saw evidence of these conflicted attitudes after the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris recently burned. Some generous donors came forward offering hundreds of millions of dollars to help the rebuilding efforts, but people were quick to rise up in criticism, saying “That money could be used to feed the poor” and “What about the African-American churches that were burned the same week?” Beloved, I care about each image bearer and every church, but do not begrudge another’s generosity. There is far too little charity in the world, and there is far too little beauty. Beauty and charity together give you a glimpse of my lavish generosity.
(14-16) Judas had enough. When a convenient time arose to sneak away from the gathering, he walked to Caiaphas’s house and spoke with the leading priests. He said, “I am done with him. He acts so foolishly. I know you are looking for a way to arrest him. How can I help? What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” They worked out a plan and gave him 30 silver coins. Pocketing the money, Judas watched for his chance.
(17-19) On Thursday, the first feast day of Passover, the disciples came and asked Jesus, “Where should we prepare the dinner?” Jesus sent them into Jerusalem where they were to meet up with a man who had a space they could use. They found the man and followed him to his house where he showed them a large upper room they could use. Settling in, they began preparations.
(20-22) Later, as the sun was setting, they all gathered and reclined together around the dinner table. They were eating dinner and Jesus said to them, “One of you is going to betray me.” Again, they were shaken to their core and filled with sadness. They could not understand how someone from this tight group of friends could possibly betray Jesus, their leader and teacher? They each asked, “Is it me?”
The thought of betraying their Lord was deplorable, yet they also had enough self-awareness to know that they were not perfect. They knew that as sinners, great evil remained possible. Child, I want you to be self-aware enough to realize that apart from my Son, evil can take a firm hold and you may do things that are inconceivable. Always turn back to him.
(23-24) My Son answered their question: “It is the man who just his dipped his hand in the dish with me. He will betray me. Isaiah anticipated that the Messiah would be a suffering servant, and so I am. But woe to the one who betrays the Son of Man. It would be better to not be born than to betray a friend.”
Child, value your relationships and be attuned to your own motivations. When you are guided by self-centeredness, you will harm or betray your friends. That is not how it ought to be. Seek amends when you harm one another.
(25) Finally, lifting his eyes to Jesus, Judas asked, “So, teacher, is it me?” My Son responded, “It is just as you said.”
(26-29) They continued eating the feast of the Unleavened Bread. Jesus took some of the bread and he broke it. He offered a blessing, thanking me for my provision and then he said to them, “Take some of the bread and eat it. This is my body.” He also took a cup of wine, again blessing it, and said, “I want all of you to drink. This wine is my covenantal blood, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins. I am not going to drink again until we drink it together in my Father’s kingdom.”
In beginning this new tradition, Jesus was revealing the new covenant. Under the Mosaic covenant, the body of a spotless lamb was sacrificed, and its blood was spilled as a visual image of the cost of forgiveness. My Son became that perfect, spotless lamb. When you take the bread and the cup, remember your deliverance through him.
(30) At the end of dinner, they sang a hymn together and went out to the Mount of Olives. My people are a singing people, whether in celebration or lament, worship or weariness, songs may be found on their lips. Music helps you to access deeper parts within you, so that can bring more of yourself to me.
(31-35) As they walked, Jesus told them, “All of you will fall away tonight because of who I am and what is happening to me, but after I conquer death and rise again, I will see you again in Galilee.” Peter replied, “Lord, even if every one of these men abandons you, I won’t. Not ever.” My Son looked at Peter with compassion in his eyes, and said, “Peter, listen closely. This very night, before the sun has fully risen, you will deny me not just once, but three times. The rooster’s crow will be an exclamation point.” Peter doubled down, “Even if I must die at your side, I will never deny you.” A chorus of agreement arose from the others.
Beloved, like Peter, your appraisal of your own faithfulness is often overly optimistic, though I know that the longer you have followed me, you have become more realistic. You have become aware of how wobbly and inconsistent your faith can be, and yet you can still be filled with religious pride. My Son went to the cross because you are not capable of perfect faith. Though you deny me, I still love you.
(36-39) They went over to the garden of Gethsemane, a place where the olive crop was processed. Jesu told the disciples to sit, while he went further to pray. He had Peter, James, and John—his inner three—come further with him. The reality of what was coming began to press heavily upon my Son and he was filled with an agonizing sorrow and dread. He said to the three, “My soul is so heavy right now, I feel a sadness worse than death itself. Please stay with me and keep watch.” He went on alone. Falling to the ground with his face in the dirt, he pleaded with me, “My Father, please, if there is any other way, I don’t want to do this. Let the cup of suffering pass me by. Yet even so, let it be according to your divine plan.”
Dear child, you cannot possibly know the agony we felt over this, but we knew, before time began, that this show of love would be necessary to restore union with our image bearers. In his book, A Praying Life, my servant Paul Miller wrote,
Jesus defines himself only in relationship with his heavenly Father. Adam and Eve began their quest for self-identity after the fall. Only after they acted independently of God did they have a sense of a separate self. Because Jesus has no separate sense of self, he has no identity crisis, no angst. Consequently, he doesn’t try to ‘find himself.’ He knows himself only in relationship with the Father. He can’t conceive of himself outside of that relationship. Imagine asking Jesus how he’s doing. He’d say, ‘My Father and I are great. He has given me everything I need today.’ You respond, ‘I’m glad your Father is doing well, but let’s just focus on you a minute. Jesus, how are you doing?’ Jesus would look at you strangely, as if you were speaking a foreign language. The question doesn’t make sense. He simply can’t answer the question ‘how are you doing?’ without including his heavenly Father. That’s why contemplating the terror of the cross was such an agony for Jesus. He had never experienced a moment when he wasn’t in communion with his Father. Jesus anguish is our normal.”
Miller understood why this was so hard. Disrupted union is not how it is supposed to be and it terrified my Son.
(40-41) He came to the disciples, who had fallen asleep. He said to Peter, “You could not stay awake and watch for me for even an hour? I am going to go pray again. Will you watch for me once more, praying that you do not yield to the temptation to sleep? I know your heart is in it, but full bellies and soft ground overruled your spirit.”
You are an embodied human. Your spiritual life cannot be excised from your physical being. You have basic physical needs and drives, and at times, these will tempt you away from following me. Always talk with me when those temptations arise.
(42-46) My Son came and prayed again. “My Father, if there is no other possible way for this to go, then I will follow your will and drink the cup that is poured for me.” Once more when he returned, the three were sound asleep, despite their best efforts. He went away to pray a third time, offering up the same anguished pleas. He returned and said, “There will be time for rest later, but right now, my betrayer has arrived. Stand up; here he comes.”
(47-50) Looking up, they saw Judas, one of the twelve disciples, coming. He was being followed by a great crowd of people, armed with swords and clubs, representatives of the chief priests and elders. According to the plan they devised, Judas would betray my Son with a kiss. With a false joy in his voice, Judas kissed my Son saying, “Greetings, rabbi.” Looking back at him, my Son replied, “Friend, do what you came to do.” The mob encircled my Son, handling him roughly and seized him.
(51-54) Without hesitation, Peter pulled out his sword and started swinging, cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus said to Peter, “My brother, put away your sword. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. Don’t you believe that I could ask my Father and he would send an overwhelming number of angels to rescue me? But then it would not follow what the old prophets predicted.” My kingdom is not established by worldly power, but by love through my Spirit. My kingdom operates differently than earthly kingdoms.
(55-56) Turning to the mob, Jesus asked, “Have you put together a posse as if you were tracking a violent criminal? I have been in the temple every day this week, teaching about God’s kingdom, and you did not capture me then, but you have done it this way in fulfillment of God’s word.” Then all the disciples fled, abandoning my Son, just as he had told them.
(57-58) The mob who had seized my Son marched him to Caiaphas’s house, where the elders and lawyers had gathered with the high priest. Peter followed behind, lurking in the shadows. The council had assembled in the large courtyard adjoining the high priest’s home, but there were many others gathering too, despite the late hour. Peter snuck in to watch what was happening.
(59-63a) The chief priest and the council began to call out for evidence against my Son. They were not interested in misdemeanors, but charges that would warrant the death penalty. Despite the mob’s size, there were no charges of sufficient magnitude to fulfill their hope, even though many were willing to tell lies to convict him. Two people came forward and said, “He claimed he could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.” This sounded preposterous to the crowd. Caiaphas asked Jesus, “How do you respond to this charge? What do you have to say about the claim from these men?” My Son remained silent. Jesus was unafraid to speak, but he was also unafraid to hold his tongue. This is an important lesson for godliness: Speak boldly and maintain silence boldly.
(63b-65a) Irritated, the high priest continued, “I command you before almighty God, tell us if you are the Christ.” Jesus responded, “It is as you have said, but even more than you have expected. From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Almighty himself, ruling with him over the entire cosmos.” The high priest was shocked and tore his robes.
The tearing of one’s clothes was a visible sign of deep grief; however, in the Levitical law, the high priest was expected to maintain his personal holiness and not tear his robes, yet Caiaphas did because he was so offended by my Son’s statement.
(65b-66) Caiaphas cried out, “He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we even need any more witnesses? You heard it right from his very own lips. What then is your judgment?” The council did not even need to discuss it, they simply said, “He deserves to die.” These were the “experts” in my law, and they knew that my penalty for egregiously insulting me by claiming divine status was death.
(67-68) After agreeing together that my Son was guilty, the council gave in to their anger and physically attacked him. They spit in his face. They punched him from every side. Others slapped him, and sarcastically asked, “Who hit you? Give us a prophecy, you who are the Christ!” Their shaming began in earnest. The physical blows and wounds he endured were horrific but shaming another is utterly dehumanizing. When people use words to put others to shame, they are telling the person they have no value, but all have value to me. I created every person in my image.
(69-75) While all of this was happening, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, watching and listening in horror. A young girl who served in Caiaphas’s household saw Peter and said, “Hey, you were with Jesus from Galilee.” Peter quickly denied her. “No, you are mistaken.” He got up and moved to the entrance of the courtyard, preparing to make a break for it if the need arose. Another servant girl said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Angry, Peter looked at her and said, “Listen, I swear to you I do not know him!” Peter continued milling about, increasingly restless. A while later, one of the gathered bystanders came to Peter and said, “You must be one of those Jesus followers. Your accent has ‘Galilee’ stamped all over it.” Peter was livid. He looked at the bystanders around him and said, “May God strike me dead if I’m lying. I do not know him.” At once, the rooster crowed. Remembering what Jesus had said to him during dinner, “Peter, before the rooster’s crow welcomes the dawn, you will deny me not once, but three times.” Peter felt crushed with shame. He fled the courtyard and collapsing on the ground, he wept bitter tears.
Beloved, I know you have felt shame’s sting when you have denied me or have felt that you did not represent me fully. You grieve with Peter. Listen, if you were perfect in your love for me, I would not have had to send my Son. I am not sitting on my throne, shaking my head in disappointment over you. I love you so much, I willingly sent my Son. I would do it over again, even if it were only for you.
(1-2) As morning dawned, the whole council of Jewish leaders convened for a formal vote about the night’s courtyard trial. They agreed that my Son deserved death for his blasphemy. They tied him up and led him out of the courtyard to take him to Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the Roman leader in Judea at the time, the one who had the authority to enact Roman justice in the region. The Jewish high council could not act apart from his authority, because Rome was ruling at the time.
(3-4) Judas Iscariot, my Son’s betrayer, saw the developing events and changed his mind about having betrayed my Son. The impending horror of what he had done was beginning to dawn. He went back to the council and said, “I was wrong. I betrayed an innocent man. I was fed up with him, but I was wrong. I take it all back.” Coldly, they responded, “Why should we care? Do whatever you want.”
(5) Judas could not believe what was happening. He thought he could set things right, but the wheels were already in motion. In shame and disgust, he threw the 30 pieces of silver down before the priests and left. Judas’s self-loathing did not lead him not back to my Son to apologize, but to hang himself.
Beloved, I know how much you have been perplexed by Judas, wondering how someone whose betrayal was prophesied could be held responsible. I know you have also struggled with commentators who have suggested that Judas is right now in hell. Here is what I want you to hear: I am perfect love and perfect justice. What is true of Judas’s status before me is not your determination to make, nor any of the commentators. What I want you to know is that my love sets all things right.
(6-10) The priests gathered up the silver and said to one another, “We cannot just put this money in the treasury. We used it to purchase a man’s life.” They decided to buy a field where those without family or resources could be buried and called it “blood cemetery.” These events were anticipated by Jeremiah, who wrote, “They took 30 pieces of silver, the ransom price set by the sons of Israel, and bought potter’s field under the Lord’s direction.”
The Jewish council demonstrated how uneven human justice can be. They had no difficulty purchasing my Son’s life for a pitiable sum, nor condemning him to death, yet they sought to behave righteously with their blood money. Beware of the unevenness in your own sense of what is right and wrong. Perfect justice is found only in me.
(11-14) When they arrived at Pilate’s home, Jesus was brought before him. The governor asked, “Are you King of the Jews?” My Son responded, “It is as you have said.” Facing further accusations from the religious leaders who also stood by, he did not answer, nor elaborate. Pilate, witnessing his silence, asked, “Do you not hear all of these charges and accusations. What do you have to say?” But Jesus remained silent. Pilate shook his head in amazement. My Son felt no need to argue his case, nor plead for release. He answered what was necessary; no more, no less. He was putting into practice what he had said about letting your yes be yes and your no be no.
(15-18) During Passover, Pilate had historically released one prisoner as a show of mercy. In truth, it helped keep local rebellions from boiling over. They had incarcerated a notorious criminal, Barabbas, who was a robber, a murderer, and rebel who had stirred people to revolt. Pilate asked the gathered crowd, “Whom shall I release? Barabbas the insurrectionist or Jesus who is called the Christ?” Pilate believed the real reason the high priest’s council delivered my Son was because they were envious of how influential he had become. People who thirst for power and influence typically cannot accept another’s influence or success and will directly or subversively seek to destroy their “competition.” The religious machine had developed a thirst for controlling my people.
(19) Pilate’s wife told him to avoid Jesus. She wanted Pilate to stay away from him because in a dream that very morning, she had felt tortured by the thought of bringing harm to someone as pure and good as my Son.
(20-23) While Pilate was weighing and considering all of the information he was hearing, the religious leaders and their mob were mixing in among the common people, convincing them that what would be best for everyone would be to have Barabbas released, because they believed Jesus was exponentially more dangerous. With surprise, Pilate asked again, “Are you sure? Which one shall I release?” The mob yelled, “Barabbas! We want Barabbas!” Pilate continued, “Then what shall I do with Jesus the Christ?” With even louder voices, they cried out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate remained confused. My Son had not murdered, stolen, nor led any rebellions. He had healed and called people to live lives of love. He asked, “Why does he deserve crucifixion? What evil has he done deserving death?” But by that point, the crowd had been stirred into a passionate frenzy. “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Groupthink and crowd behaviors have been thoroughly researched by psychologists and sociologists. People often lower their inhibitions in the presence of others. Be aware of the tendency to allow your thinking to be swayed by the mob. Always keep looking to my Son and listening to my Spirit for what is true, noble, and right.
(24-26) Pilate looked at the crowd and saw that they were beyond reason. They were becoming more agitated and they were on the edge of violence. Pilate stepped over to a large basin of water and washed his hands, symbolically telling them he was done with them and that he bore no responsibility. “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Take care of it yourselves.” The people pressed further, saying, “Fine. We will take responsibility for his death, even to the next generation.” Reluctantly, Pilate set Barabbas free while my Son was taken by the Roman soldiers and brutally tortured before he was sent to be crucified. Despite Pilate’s statement that he was innocent, he was not. No person is innocent. There are no perfect people apart from my Son, which is the very reason he came.
(27-29) After his brutal beating and torture, soldiers brought my Son into the courtyard adjoining Pilate’s fortress. They gathered 200 soldiers who stood in formation before Jesus. They stripped off his clothes and dressed him in a scarlet robe and, twisting together a crown made of large thorns, they placed on his head. They gave him a reed for a scepter and then all knelt before him saying, “All hail King of Jews!”
This was utter mockery, meant to shame my Son and clearly demonstrate the folly of resisting Rome’s sovereignty. Calling him King of the Jews while so clearly demeaning him sent the message to the onlookers that opposing the power of Rome was pure foolishness.
(30-31) After their false salute, they took turns spitting on him, just as the religious leaders had done. They took the reed from him and used it to pound the long thorns into his head. They took away the scarlet robe and put him back in his own clothes, moving him one step closer to crucifixion.
(32-33) My Son was battered and bloody. While trying to carry the crossbeam, he kept stumbling beneath its weight. The Roman soldiers, fed up with how slow Jesus was moving, grabbed a man from the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, and compelled him to carry it. They marched him to Golgotha, an elevated place that was used for executions. Roman crucifixion was brutal. It was an exquisitely painful method of death that took a long time, but crucifixion was also highly visible, clearly meant to communicate, “Do not mess with Rome.”
(34-35) They offered my Son wine to drink, but they had mixed it with a poisonous, bitter herb. Tasting it, he would not drink. They nailed his wrists to the crossbeam and raised him up on the pole, securing his feet with nails as well. They had stripped him naked and gambled for his clothing, just as the psalmist had anticipated. Physically exposed, enduring severe pain, and abandoned by all, my Son hung there for all to see.
(36-37) As my Son hung in agony, his muscles on fire and his lungs crying out for air, the soldiers sat down on the ground to keep watch. They hung a sign over his head that read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews,” yet another mockery and a warning that no person should rebel against Rome.
(38-40) Two robbers were crucified with Jesus, one on each side, three crosses standing prominently for public view. Many people made their way to Golgotha and would pass close by the cross to ridicule and shame my Son, adding further insult to injury. They would shake their heads and say, “You claimed you would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. You cannot even save your sorry self. If you are the Son of God, come on down. Prove it.” No one believed he could actually save himself; theirs were words of contempt, not encouragement.
(41-44) Just as in Pilate’s courtyard, the people were being goaded by the religious leaders, who were loudly mocking him. “This Jesus saved other people, but he cannot even save himself. If he is Israel’s king, as he claims, he should have no problem coming down from the cross. If he proves himself, then we will believe in him.” In truth, they had seen, yet did not believe. People who choose to reject the truth of my Son close their eyes tightly, even in the face of overwhelming evidence for truth. “He claims he trusts in God. Where is his God now? If God really loves him, if this heretic is indeed God’s Son, he will have no trouble lifting him from the cross. If those things happen, then we will believe his claims that he is ‘the Son of God.’” Even the robbers hanging with him joined in the ridicule.
My Son was so alone. He was mocked by the soldiers, the religious leaders, the common people, and even the thieves. He was utterly abandoned. Deep loneliness is destructive because I created you for relationship.
(45-46) At noon, the sun’s brightness was eclipsed so that the whole land was darkened for three hours. At 3:00, Jesus cried out in Aramaic, “Eli, Eli, sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is important to understand that in my Son’s anguish (and my own), he cried out the first verse of Psalm 22, David’s lament that went on for 31 verses. Take some time to read all of it and hear the anguish. The very next line of the psalm reads, “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry day by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” David’s psalm was written from a place of anguish, loneliness, and shame, but in his pained cries, David also called out for my help, even though he could not see me at work. My Son too was crying out in excruciating agony. The physical pain he endured was nothing when compared with the torment of utter abandonment.
(47) Some of the onlookers heard his cries and thought he was crying out for Elijah, because his name sounds similar to “my God” in Aramaic. He was pleading not for Elijah, but for me, his Father.
(48-50) One of the onlookers filled a sponge with sour wine and putting it on a stick, lifted it to his lips. As they were doing this, others said, “Hold on a minute. Let us see whether Elijah comes down in his chariot of fire to rescue him.” With one last breath, my Son cried out and he died, proving to the onlookers that Jesus was only a man. He died just as everyone else had despite his works and words to them, confirming that he could not be their Messiah.
(51-52a) At the very moment of his death, I sent an earthquake. Rocks split in two and tombs were opened. Of deepest significance, the temple curtain, which separated the holy place from the most holy place, was torn from top to bottom. Under the old covenant, I only allowed the high priest to enter the “holy of holies,” where my presence dwelled, once per year. When I tore the curtain, I symbolized the initiation of the new covenant, communicating that my dwelling place was among my people. Child, my presence is not restricted to one place, one church, or one building. My Spirit dwells within everyone who calls me Lord. There is no place for religious superiority or exclusivity.
(52b-53) Matthew’s next words have confused the church for millennia. He wrote that the bodies of saints who had died were raised to life and testified about my Son in Jerusalem to many people. Of course, child, I know the details of what Matthew meant. Wrestle with them, but do not allow these verses to be a stumbling block for you. What is important to grasp is that I was initiating the new covenant, which was anticipated by the saints of old. They had testified to it. Under the new covenant, believers, old and new, are resurrected and united in me.
(54) A Roman centurion standing guard, feeling my power and seeing my Son, was awestruck. He exclaimed, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” Those who allow their eyes to be opened to the power, truth, magnificence, and beauty of my Son cannot help but see him for who truly is.
(55-56) Though many of the twelve were nowhere to be found, many of my Son’s female disciples stayed nearby throughout his sham trial and unjust execution. Some had come along with him from Galilee and had been ministering to him, including Mary Magdalene; Jesus’s mother Mary, who was also mother to James and Joseph; and Salome, the mother of James and John. They were eyewitnesses to his death.
Beloved, I do not want you to miss the strength and love evidenced by the women in Jesus’s life. Too often, when people think of my Son’s disciples, they think only of the twelve, but in truth, he had many women who loved him and served with him. They stayed with him until the very end and they were the first to see him risen. Women are never second-class citizens in my kingdom.
(57-61) As evening approached, there was a rich man who was also part of the Jewish Sanhedrin and did not agree with my Son’s sentence of death who came and asked for Jesus’s body, for though he was part of the high council, he was also one of my Son’s disciples. Pilate ordered his soldiers to give the body to Joseph from Arimethea. Joseph tenderly took my Son’s body and wrapped it in a large linen burial cloth. Joseph owned a new tomb cut into the side of a rock, where he laid my Son’s body to rest. With help, he rolled a large boulder over the mouth of the tomb to protect his body from vandals and animals. Once again, the two Mary’s sat by, mourning his death. When the finality of his death was sealed in the grave, it brought a fresh wave of tears and sorrow.
(62-66) The next day was the Sabbath and the chief priests and the Pharisees came to Pilate again, petitioning him once more. They said to him, “Sir, that imposter, Jesus, said that he would come back to life three days after he died. We would not put it past his disciples to come by and steal his body and then try to convince people that the liar Jesus had actually risen. Their lies would make everything worse. In order to shut all this nonsense down now, we would ask that you place a guard at the tomb to prevent any further trickery.” Pilate saw their point, so he gave them a guard for the tomb. He instructed them, “Make that tomb as secure as possible. Let us put an end to this madness,” so they went and made sure the tomb was well-secured with the stone, and a group of well-trained, fully armed guards stood careful watch.
(1-4) Sabbath passed and Sunday dawned. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary continued mourning. They made their way to the tomb, wanting to be near him in their grief. As they drew near, I shook the earth once more as one of my angels rolled back the stone and sat upon it. He was clothed in luminous purity, heaven’s manifestation. The battle-hardened soldiers shook with terror and fainted in fear.
Worldly power is no match for the manifestation of my Spirit. The bravest soldiers wilt in the presence of my glory. The wisest voices become mute because heaven’s glories are infinitely greater than sin-stained creation.
(5-7) My messenger spoke to the women. “Do not be afraid. I know that you have come to see Jesus, the one who was crucified. Hear me: he is not here. He has risen from death. He is returning to Galilee, just as he said he would do. Come, God wants you to see where his body was laid. You have heard with your ears, now see with your eyes. Carry this message back to the disciples, that he has risen and he will see them once again in Galilee.”
I trusted these faithful women with the message of my Son’s resurrection. In their mourning, they never lost hope.
(8-9) They wasted no time exiting the tomb, running as fast as their feet would carry them back to the mourning disciples. On their way, my radiant Son greeted them, saying, “Hello my dear friends.” The two Marys fell to their knees and gripped my Son around the feet, praising me, and praising him in celebratory worship. The cascade of their tears drenched his feet, a beautiful celebration of my Son’s resurrection.
(10) My Son looked at them with tenderness. “My beloved friends, do not be scared. I want you to go to the disciples and tell them to come and see me in Galilee,” repeating the angel’s message. Do not fear. Tell the others. Come and meet me. That is still a good message. Don’t be afraid. My Son has made your peace possible. Tell others. There is no more important message than my Son’s resurrection. Our Trinitarian love, through his sacrifice on the cross, overcame evil and death, crushing Satan’s head. Invite people to come and see me. My Spirit is still a present reality for you, manifested most clearly in how you relate to one another.
(11-15) Meanwhile, the Roman guard, who had passed out with fear, returned to Jerusalem to tell their leadership and the chief priests what had transpired. They gathered in an emergency meeting, hoping to do damage control, knowing that if word got out, it could stir up the people. The priests and elders paid the soldiers a large sum of money to keep quiet, instructing them to say that my Son’s disciples snuck in at night and stole the body while they were sleeping. The chief priests were also aware that the guards themselves could have faced severe punishment for neglecting their duties by falling asleep on the job, so they promised to pay off anyone necessary, even up to Pilate himself, should it come to it. The guards took the money and stuck to the story. This conspiracy between the Roman and the Jewish leadership gave birth to the predominant myth about my Son’s resurrection.
Secular and religious people alike are often uncomfortable with spiritual manifestations, preferring to explain away the miracle of my Son’s resurrection. As you know, people still try to explain away the resurrection. I want you to remember this: Do not be afraid. Tell others. Come and meet me.
(16-17) My Son’s followers, including the remaining 11 apostles, returned to Galilee as Jesus and the angel had instructed them, through the woman. They gathered in the hills, as my Son had directed. When they gathered, everyone worshipped, but some doubted. Child, worship and doubt are not mutually exclusive. I know you have doubts from time to time, doubts about whether I am listening, whether I love you, whether I am good, or whether I am even real. Worship me in the midst of your questions. Bring them to me as one aspect of your worship. Wrestle honestly before me, even with me. I honor your doubts, and whether you feel or not, I go with you on the journey.
(18) Mathew concluded his book with what has come to be known as the great commission. He looked at his gathered disciples and said to them, “In my resurrection, I have been granted all of the authority of God, as above so below.”
The next part of his commission makes no sense without his first part. He had been telling the disciples that he was God. My Son, my Spirit, and I are one God who rule and reign in both earthly and heavenly kingdoms. These kingdoms come together in my incarnate Son. Nothing happens without his divine permission.
(19) Jesus continued, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the people of the earth. Baptize them so they understand being buried in death and raised to new life because of my living water, in the Father, Son, and Spirit.” Child there is so much I do not want you to miss in Jesus’s commission. First, because my Son has all authority, he can direct you to go and carry our message.
Second, he called you to make disciples, not merely followers. Too often, this commission, which is indeed great, gets minimized to getting people to make a decision for my Son as savior. Of course, we want everyone to accept the gift of salvation through what he did on the cross, but Jesus was not asking his followers merely to get “decisions for Christ.” We want disciples, those who choose to follow him by the Spirit all for our glory. To be a disciple is to be an apprentice who seeks to learn the master’s way of living. Jesus is your Savior, but he also wants to be your teacher. Get to know how he lived and loved and teach others to do the same.
Third, this commission is not only for the Jews, but for all people everywhere. Seek to become a loving, other-centered community. A world of love and humble service is better for all people. Do not hide my Son’s message from those who do not look or think like you.
Fourth, all the Trinity matters. You cannot understand me apart from the Son and Spirit, nor the Spirit apart from my Son and me, nor the Son apart from my Spirit and me. The three of us are one God.
(20) In the final verse, my Son instructed the disciples to teach new disciples not only to know, but obey, our divine command to love. I want you to love me, love one another, love yourself, and love all of creation, just as my Son did. Love up, love down, love in, and love out. As you do this, remember that we will never leave you nor abandon you. We are with you always.
 Isa. 7:14.
 Micah 5:2.
 Hosea 11:1.
 Jer. 31:15.
 Isa. 40:3, see also Mal. 3:1.
 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (1940; repr., San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 2001), 91.
 Isa. 9:1,2; 42:7.
 The beatitudes in verses 2 – 12 come from the ESV.
 Donald B. Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom (1978; repr., Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2011).
 Chuck DeGroat, Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
 Ibid, 98.
 See Jer. 31, for example.
 Exod. 21:24.
 Walter Hooper (ed.), The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. III, Narnia, Cambridge and Joy, 1950-1963 (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2007), p. 111.
 Gal. 5:23.
 Isa. 53:4.
 Matthew 8:18.
 Hosea 6:6.
 St. Augustine, Confessions III.vi.11 (trans: Henry Chadwick, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 43.
 See 1 Sam. 21:1-6.
 Matthew 9:13.
 Isa. 42:1-3.
 See Matthew 3.
 Jonah 1:17ff.
 1 Kings 10:1-2.
 Luke 1:31-33.
 Isa. 6:9-10.
 This quote is often attributed to Mother Teresa, though it is uncertain whether she said it.
 Ps. 78:2
 Michael Card, Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).
 2 Cor. 12:9.
 Exod. 20:12.
 Exod. 21:17.
 Isa. 29:13.
 Matthew 12:39.
 Ezek. 36:36.
 Verse 11 is absent.
 Jer. 31:34.
 Gen. 2:24.
 Zech. 9:9.
 Isa. 56:7.
 Jer. 6:14.
 Dallas Willard, “Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived?,” Biola University Christian Apologetics Program, 2006, compact disc.
 Lev. 19:18, 34.
 Michael Card, Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books). This book is a good reference for the idea of love as God’s defining essence.
 Ps. 110:1.
 Deut. 11:18.
 Chuck DeGroat, When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse (Downers Grove, IL: IVP).
 Cf., Matthew 11:17.
 Flavius Josephus, “The Wars of the Jews 6.9.3” (ed. William Whitson), Tufts University, accessed September 7, 2020. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=J.+BJ+6.9.3.
 John 12:3.
 Paul Miller, A Praying Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2009), 45.
 Lev. 21:10.
 Jer. 19:1-13.
 Matthew 5:37.
 Ps. 22:18.
 Ps. 22:1-2, ESV.
 E.g., Jer. 31.