Thursday, October 19, 2017

What We Value Most

16“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’19You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.(Matthew 23:16-22) 

Thoughts: Blind guides are not trustworthy.  The Pharisees thought they saw and understood but they were confused (foolish) and blind. 
    Here Jesus rebukes them for valuing gold over worship.  They were willing to swear by the gold but not by the Temple as the steadfast valuable thing to swear by.  This is one of the problem of our day- we are so materialistic that we think the gold makes the church- not that the church itself is golden.  We tend to value the best stuff of earth more than the best stuff of God.  God is the maker both of gold and the Temple.  Jesus is trying to help people to value the house of God more than they do.  We who believe in Jesus need to hear His teachings on this.  

Prayer: Let me see clearly what you value, O God.  Give me grace that my values would be more and more in line with yours.  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Converting others to a fake salvation

15“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:15)

Thoughts: This is the third woe. The Pharisees wanted people to be like them.  But they themselves were lost.  They were trying and trying- and trying to be good but could never get there.  They were running like hamsters on a wheel- but going nowhere (like Sisyphus in Tartarus/hell rolling a rock to nowhere continuously).
    The Pharisees converted people to their way of torturous tireless trying but failing because of sin.  The Pharisees needed grace but they refused it because they thought they could get to the kingdom by their own effort.  They turned their own Messiah down.  So any converts they made were brought down with them. 
     There are religious people who steer people away from God.  The Pharisees did this.  They were sincere, but they forgot about grace and God's help and love.  Instead they believed it was all about obedience and duty. Duty without heart is an empty shell.  Converting others to that kind of religion only brings them down too.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to see that I am a sinner in need of a Savior.  Help me to see I need your help- your grace to remove my failures.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Refocusing Religion

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. (Matthew 23:14)

Thoughts: Most manuscripts leave out verse 14.  Yet it is found similarly to Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47: ("they devour widow's houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.  These men will be punished more severely").  So it was a saying of Jesus that makes sense in this place.
    "They devour widow's houses" this means they take advantage of the needy to advance themselves financially.  Their greed possessed them more than their compassion.  All of us are called to give up greed and instead be generous toward those in need.
      "And for a pretense you make long prayers."  It is hard to mess up praying.  Many feel uncomfortable praying.  But the only real requirement of Jesus is that it be talking to God FROM THE HEART- AND NOT JUST FOR SHOW. 
     True religion takes the focus off of us and puts it on God and others.  But these scribes and Pharisees (teachers of the Law) found a way to manipulate religion to still focus on themselves.  In our day this happens with a different twist.  We believe in God only for what God can do for us.  The focus therefore is not on God- but on what God can do for us.  This shows clearly when we are disappointed with something that happens in our lives and we blame God.  It is not about us.  

Prayer: Lord, let my life's attention and focus be on you.  You alone are worthy of worship, praise, time, and all that I am.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

Shutting Heaven

13“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13) 

Thoughts: The Pharisees condemned people they considered "sinners."  They did not give second chances.  They lived only by rules and not be grace.  So, the Pharisees were quick to condemn (and in their minds) send people to hell.   This is what Jesus means when he says, "shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces." 
    But the Pharisees do not enter.  They believe that they deserve heaven because they try so hard to obey their rules.  The problem is no one is perfect.  If heaven is a perfect place, even the Pharisees- who try harder than anyone- will not make it.  Imperfect people cannot come in or haven will no longer be perfect.  The Pharisees did not think they needed God's help to get to heaven.  They felt that all they needed was to keep all the commands and they felt they could. 
     The Pharisees also condemned those who were trying to follow Jesus.  Thus He said, "Nor will you let those who enter who are trying to."  The sinners who repented and followed Jesus were condemned by the Pharisees as were all who followed Jesus. 
     The Pharisees acted as it they were guardians of the door.  They did not have that right because they couldn't get in themselves.  The invitation to heaven is open to all and only God has the right to let people in. 

Prayer: Lord, let me trust in your grace and not in my own ability to do good.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Titles and Robes

5“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteriesa wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.9And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:5-12)

Thoughts: The Pharisees did things for people to see.  Many in America do this as well.  We like to look good- with good cars, nice houses, nice boats, the best tickets at the best events- things that make us supposedly look good.  But looking good temporarily does not affect us for eternity.  It could even adversely affect us.  Some will go into debt so high in order to look good- or have our children look good.  But this is just for show.
      One of my seminary professors said that the further we move away from the Bible, the longer our robes and the more colored our stoles become, and the more degrees and titles are meted out. 
      The biggest truth for us is that the greatest will be a servant and the humble will be exalted.  We are called not to seek to look good, but to humble ourselves rightly before God.  

Prayer: Lord, let me seek you from the heart and not to seek to simply look good.  

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Not practicing what we preach

1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:1-4) 

Thoughts: Jesus was the King of kings.  Yet He could have flinched at obeying bad rule makers.  He did not foment a rebellion against the Romans- even encouraging rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's, though He certainly did not approve of their behavior.  Later the Romans would be the ones to kill Him.  He criticized the Pharisees because they had corrupted the faith.  This whole chapter is a scathing criticism- seven woes and a tough introduction.  But here he clearly calls for the people to listen to them since they were over them.  In a few days these Pharisees whom He said to listen to would have Him killed on the cross. 
      The Pharisees were hypocritical because they did not practice what they preached.  They made all these human rules but did not keep them.  They were great about making rules, but they did not believe in grace.  Jesus was about hope, grace, and love- the motivational things that make religion worthwhile.  We should not focus on the moral side of faith as much as the motivational side.  Luther said, "Love God and do what you will."  He meant if we love God the rest will fall into line.

Prayer: Lord, help me to love you with hear, soul, mind and strength.  Forgive me when I do not practice what I preach.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Messiah is Lord

41While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
43He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
44“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.” ’e
45If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)

Thoughts: Jesus asks the Pharisees a question for a change.  The question was about the identity of the Messiah. Strong prophetic tradition says that the Messiah is the Son of David, so their reply was quick (based on 2 Chr. 17:10-14; Isa. 9:2-7; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6).
     But Jesus is more than just an ancestor of David.  He is David's Lord. Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1 (the most quoted Psalm of the New Testament).  The Messiah is not only David's descendant and thus a king, but also the one David follows and owes allegiance to- even as the mightiest king of Israel. Jesus was laying claim to divinity, and the Pharisees had no answer. 
       The Pharisees could not trap Him, outsmart Him, out maneuver Him, so they did the only thing left as those in power to stop Him- arrest and kill Him. 
       Jesus was clearly laying claim to the Messiah- the descendant of David- the King but also the Lord worthy of following.  The Pharisees just did not want to follow Jesus or give Him their allegiance.  Our call is to not just acknowledge his identity but listen to Him and worship Him as David did.  

Prayer: Lord, you are worthy not only of my allegiance but my life.  You are my Lord, and I give myself to you.