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March 6, 2017: Don’t Do What They Do

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 12-14, Psalm 53, Matthew 23:1-12, Romans 5:1-11 Matthew 23:1-12: Matthew 23 is all one piece of cloth, and it is hard to divide it up into sections and look at each part in turn. Throughout it all, Jesus is denouncing fake “religion,” and not only denouncing it, but bringing forward various principles that reveal the typical characteristics of such pharisaic religiosity. The first sign of such false religiosity is impressive teaching but unimpressive living (23:2-3). Rather ironically, then, when we encounter such disparity, we can, if the doctrine is sound, safely emulate the message, but we are to beware of copying the lifestyle of the pharisaic religious teacher. The second sign is that they tend to make following God harder for people, and having made it harder, they won’t actually help the people they teach to meet these increased demands (23:4). It seems impressive to erect high barriers and raise standards,...

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March 5, 2017: More Than a Question

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 9-11, Psalm 52, Matthew 22:34-46, Romans 4 Matthew 22:34-46: Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees get their heads together and decide to try a different tactic (22:34). They’ll test him on some of the more fundamental and essential aspects of the Law—what is the greatest commandment (22:36)—and they send another representative to do the testing for them (22:35). The righteous are as brave as a lion, but the wicked cower behind others to do their dirty work for them. Jesus, as ever, answers brilliantly. The Law—not the Bible, note, as this passage is often thought to say—the Law and the Prophets are summarized by a vertical love to God first, and then a horizontal love to each other (22:37-40). Having finally stymied every question that they could think of throwing at him, Jesus now turns the tables and asks them a question (22:41-42). This question is not a trick...

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March 4, 2017: Wisdom Sans Pareil

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 7-8, Psalm 51, Matthew 22:15-33, Romans 3 Matthew 22:15-33: Having been called out by Jesus for refusing to accept his invitation to the banquet of the king—to come into the kingdom of God—the Pharisees form an unholy alliance against Jesus. They send their disciples, along with the Herodians, to catch Jesus in his words. The Herodians were those who sided with the infamous king; the Pharisees did not cozy up to the royal power. And yet here they are; the enemy of your enemy is your friend, and they come together to try to trap Jesus. The trap is particularly carefully laid. First, there is the flattery (22:16). When someone flatters you, they are setting a trap for your feet. Beware Greeks bearing gifts, and beware Pharisees with smooth tongues singing your praises. But not only are they flattering Jesus, their flattery is intended to force him to be frank, by...

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March 3, 2017: Many Are Invited, but Few Are Chosen

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 5-6, Psalm 50, Matthew 22:1-14, Romans 2 Matthew 22:1-14: At one level this next parable is quite simple. It is another story that illustrates the meaning and reality of the kingdom of heaven (22:1). The point, of course, is that the king has a feast, invites guests to come, they refuse to come (22:5)—and indeed refuse violently (22:6). The king therefore rejects the original invitees, with justice, and instead goes out and finds others to come. Those originally invited were not worthy (22:8), but from the highways and byways, the main road (22:9), others are brought, both “bad and good” (22:10) (meaning that their innate “goodness” is not the qualification, but the fact that they have been brought in). Still, there is a final twist in the tale. There is a man without a “wedding garment” (22:11), and he is thrown out for not being one of those who had been invited—and is...

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March 2, 2017: He Is the Owner

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 3-4, Psalm 49, Matthew 21:33-46, Romans 1:18-32 Matthew 21:33-46: To explain further his radical point that it was the unexpected who truly received Jesus’ message of the kingdom, Jesus now tells another parable (21:33). This one is about a vineyard, a typical symbol for God’s people and for Israel, and about an owner of the vineyard. There are tenants that he leases this vineyard to, and when the master sends his servants to get his payment for leasing the vineyard (the fruits), the tenants violently refuse to pay up (21:35-36). Finally, the owner of the vineyard decides to send his son, thinking that they would surely respect his son. But instead they decide that the moment was ripe for them to kill the son, and heir, and thereafter the vineyard would be theirs (21:39). The question Jesus asks is a stirring one: what will the owner of the vineyard do...

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March 1, 2017: Lessons from Tax Collectors and Prostitutes

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 1-2, Psalm 48, Matthew 21:23-32, Romans 1:1-17 Matthew 21:23-32: In religious circles, “authority” questions are nearly ubiquitous. Who is in charge is a political issue in many institutions and organizations, and the conflict that such questions can cause has been solved down through history through various political resolutions—in our modern Western age most prevalently through different forms of representative democracy of one kind or another. Such political infighting and squabbling is not entirely, I am afraid, left to religious history either. But there is another element that is not political, but theological or epistemological: how do I know what God wants from me? Who is to say? Where is the “magisterium,” the locus of authority? The answer of the Protestant Reformation was that the authority is vested in Scripture, because it is in Scripture that the voice of God, and of Jesus, is clearly heard. The chief priests and elders...

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February 26-28, 2017

In keeping with the Bible reading plan we are using, the last days of each month are designated as "free days." February 26-28 then are intended to allow you to catch up on reading you may have missed or to study passages more in depth that intrigued you during the first 25 days of the month. With this in mind, God Centered Bible will not have a devotional for February 26-28, but will pick back up on March 1, 2017. We welcome your comments also during these days with insights you've found during the first 25 days. To receive God Centered Bible devotionals directly in your inbox, sign up here....

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February 25, 2017: Fig Tree

Today’s Bible Reading: Leviticus 26-27, Psalm 47, Matthew 21:12-22, Acts 28:17-31 Matthew 21:12-22: Jesus’ mission to Jerusalem requires a prophetic word towards the corrupt state of the people of God, and in particular, the temple at the time (21:12-13). God’s people are in constant need of being brought back into line with the truth of the Bible and into conformity with the gospel, reformed and always reforming. The temple in particular had become a center not just of mercantile exchange—like finding St. Paul’s Cathedral turned into Wall Street—but the mercantile exchange was being used to make it harder for the “all nations,” those not ethnically Jewish, to gain access to the temple. They had to change money to buy sacrificial animals. Rather than making access to God easier, they were making it harder. The house of God is to be a house of prayer (for all nations), when they had made it simply a place to...

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February 24, 2017: Donkey

Today’s Bible Reading: Leviticus 24-25, Psalm 46, Matthew 21:1-11, Acts 28:1-16 Matthew 21:1-11: Jesus comes to claim his royal throne—and what an extraordinary way to do it. “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (21:5) Jesus is deliberately coming into Jerusalem not as a military conqueror, but as the Messiah. That was not what they had expected. Humble. Riding on a donkey. The crowds greet him with Messianic adulation: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (21:9) And all seems well, until we hear Matthew’s (weary?) notice of what the crowds were actually saying about Jesus: “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (21:11). They still don’t understand who Jesus is. For them he is still merely a prophet. Right at the heart of the Christian faith is...

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February 23, 2017: What Do You Want from Me?

Today’s Bible Reading: Leviticus 21-23, Psalm 45, Matthew 20:17-34, Acts 27:27-44 Matthew 20:17-34: This section abounds in irony. First of all, we have Jesus predicting his death. It is not going to be an easy death—mocking, crucifixion—but on the third day he will rise again. What the disciples thought about this prediction is not immediately recorded, but what is recorded is how they seemed to completely ignore it (ironically). Second, then, two of the disciples come up to Jesus, with their mother as their spokesperson, kneel before Jesus, and ask him to do something. Jesus replies “What do you want?” Note that reply (20:21). What they want is honor, to sit at his right and his left. With such naked ambition, one wonders how they would ever be able to agree which one sat on the right and which one sat on the left! Still, patiently, Jesus goes into instruction mode. He asks them a question, “Are you...

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