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February 21, 2017: Hundredfold

Today’s Bible Reading: Leviticus 16-17, Psalm 43, Matthew 19:16-30, Acts 26:19-32 Matthew 19:16-30: Another encounter that is well-known, and often misinterpreted. A man comes up to Jesus with what is apparently a genuine, as well as important, question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (19:16). But Jesus notes the precise elements of his question that indicate a set of problematic assumptions, and heart orientation in this man. “What good deed?” is how he puts it. To start off the exploration, Jesus states that there is only one who is good (19:17) (assuming the point to be that only God is good). So why is he asking Jesus about what is good? Jesus is trying to help the man see that what has drawn him to talk to Jesus in this way is because Jesus is himself God. The man wants clarity over which commandments he must keep. Jesus quotes from the Ten Commandments,...

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February 20, 2017: Divorce and Marriage

Today’s Bible Reading: Leviticus 14-15, Psalm 42, Matthew 19:1-15, Acts 26:1-18 Matthew 19:1-15: The teaching that Jesus gives in this passage about divorce is interpreted in a number of different ways within the Christian church today, and this has led to no small degree of controversy over the years. While we may not always see eye-to-eye with those who interpret this passage differently from the way we do, we should hold our view in tandem with some other principles—namely, Christian charity towards brothers and sisters, the prioritization of the most important things (such as Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 13), and the humble willingness to admit that we may ourselves be wrong. If we find that there are praying, godly, wise, humble, genuinely converted, and gifted Christian teachers who hold a view that is different from the one we hold, we are surely to be slow to insist that our way must be right. With that...

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February 19, 2017: Discipline

Today’s Bible Reading: Leviticus 11-13, Psalm 41, Matthew 18:15-35, Acts 25:13-27 Matthew 18:15-25: This passage in Matthew 18 is much used in church circles, and not always well understood. It is one of only two times that specific word for “church” is used by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. One is when he is confirming that the foundation of the church is the gospel. As Luther put it, justification by faith alone is the article of the standing or falling of a church. This passage is related to discipline. A true church is a church that has a right preaching of the gospel, right administration of the ordinances or sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and right church discipline. This passage is the go-to passage with relation to church discipline. The critical thing to grasp with relation to “discipline” is that it is merely a more intensive form of discipleship. The purpose is always for the...

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February 18, 2017: Better Than Greatest

Today’s Bible Reading: Leviticus 8-10, Psalm 40, Matthew 18:1-14, Acts 25:1-12 Matthew 18:1-14: The question "who is the greatest?" has plagued Christian communities—and indeed all communities—since the beginning. In our frail humanity and fallenness, we seek for significance in the wrong places. We try to be better, greater, greatest—we do not simply enjoy the thing for the beauty of it. If someone else has it too, then we want more, better, greater. But what is the solution to such malaise? The first is to observe a little child. We are to have a childlike trust (not childishness but trustfulness) in God. And indeed we are not to despise others who do, or attack or hurt such little ones. If you are ever tempted to only want the next greatest thing, look at how much fun a child can have with one simple little toy. Or even better how much joy a child has in her...

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February 17, 2017: Mountain-Moving Power

Today’s Bible Reading: Leviticus 5-7, Psalm 39, Matthew 17:14-27, Acts 24 Matthew 17:14-27: Coming down from the mountain, Jesus is immediately met with a coming-back-to-earth moment of reality. Having been elevated and transfigured (Matt. 17:1-13), he now is back to dealing with the day-to-day realities of life and with people in their weakness, sickness, with demonic tendencies and human frailty. Life is often like this: after a beautiful moment in our quiet time with God, we must then face a screaming child or a bothersome boss. After an elevated and transfigured church worship service, we are then facing the dishes that need washing or the taxes that need filing. It is all too easy for us to think that God is sufficient for the “highs” but not for the “lows.” Here we discover that the power of God is revealed in the valleys, as much as on the mountaintops. The father of the son who cannot be...

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How Is Faith Alone?

During this fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation (dating from 1517 when Luther famously nailed his Ninety-Five Theses) we are remembering how God used faithful men and women to retrieve the gospel. At the center of this story is the doctrine of justification, that is, the particular way God makes children out of rebels. Amidst the constellation of titles released this year on the subject of justification is my recently published book, Justified in Christ, which compares the doctrines held by the legendary nineteenth-century Catholic, John Henry Newman, and an Italian hero of the Reformation, Peter Martyr Vermigli. Despite the intervening centuries, these men speak to us in fresh and practical ways. In what follows, I’d like to highlight a particular lesson that pertains to every conversation we have with our Catholic friends on the subject of salvation. Consider a classic landmine on which we often step: our message that justification is...

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February 16, 2017: Listen to Jesus

Today’s Bible Reading: Leviticus 1-4, Psalm 38, Matthew 17:1-13, Acts 23:12-35 Matthew 17:1-13: The next event, the famous Transfiguration, connects to the previous by the phrase “And after six days” (17:1). What will it mean for some not to taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom? Some will see that coming of the kingdom at the death and resurrection of Jesus, and some will get a foretaste of Jesus’ glory in just “after six days” (17:1)—that foretaste pointing towards Jesus’ death and resurrection itself (17:9). Jesus was “transfigured before them” (17:2). His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Peter later reflects on what this event meant when he says that “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). They saw Jesus’ “majesty,” his glory, the glory of the one in the coming kingdom of God—the king of the kingdom and his majesty. “Moses and...

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February 15, 2017: Take Up the Cross

Today’s Bible Reading:Exodus 38-40, Psalm 37:23-40, Matthew 16:13-28, Acts 23:1-11 Matthew 16:13-28: Peter’s confession of Christ is justly famous, for good reason, and yet frequently misunderstood at the same time. Jesus begins by asking who people say that he is (16:13). This is a technique for teaching, asking a question in good Socratic mode, not because Jesus was either ignorant of what people were saying about him, or especially interested in the popular vote. He wanted to use this question to get the disciples to give their answers so that he could create a “teachable moment” among his little band of followers. They answer telling him that basically people think that he is some sort of prophet, though exactly what kind of prophet is a matter of debate (16:14). Simon Peter then chimes in with the right answer, what he thinks himself: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (16:16). Absolutely right,...

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Changing Your Life

Life is on the wrong track. Many people today feel that way for one reason or another. Whether it be politics, cultural issues, moral matters or more prosaically economic realities, much of the Western world senses that times are not so much a’changing as a’worsening. Trusting God Writing long ago, the prophet Isaiah faced situations where the society around him was moving from a time of relative prosperity to increasing pressure from neighborhood superpowers. Isaiah’s message was, broadly speaking, quite simple. Trust in God. Do not fear. As Alec Motyer put it, “Justification by faith is not a Sunday truth bearing only on our relationship with God but also a Monday truth for the conduct of life in all its challenges.” Unfortunately, King Ahaz did not listen to this counsel. Instead of trusting God, he trusted in an alliance with Assyria—and the Northern Kingdom went into exile, the Southern Kingdom became, in effect, a...

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February 14, 2017: The Teaching of the Pharisees

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 34, Psalm 37:1-22, Matthew 16:1-12, Acts 22 Matthew 16:1-12: The contrast between those who received Jesus’ teaching and responded with faith (like the Canaanite woman, 15:21-28), and others (like the Pharisees), becomes yet more stark and glaring. The Pharisees, along with the Sadducees, come to Jesus to test him (16:1). And what a test! They want a sign. Wow. Have they been paying no attention at all? He just fed four thousand people with a small picnic (15:32-39); he has been healing countless numbers; he has been teaching vast crowds with authority. Every sign imaginable has been performed for them—if they have eyes to see and ears to hear. But they come “demanding” a sign. And therefore no sign will be given to them. Jesus is not a “jack-in-the-box” who will do their bidding; he is not a genie in a lamp that will come out and perform tricks for them. He...

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