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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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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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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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February 13, 2017: Great Faith

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 34, Psalm 36, Matthew 15:21-39, Acts 21:27-40 By contrast with the Pharisaic refusal to accept Jesus or listen to God’s Word, but rather instead trump God’s Word by means of their own human traditions—by contrast with this approach to Jesus, and God, we come across now the faith of a Canaanite woman. No greater shock could there be to hear what Jesus said in verse 28 of this woman: “Great is your faith.” But she is asking Jesus to have mercy on her (15:22). She recognizes his Messianic identity (“Son of David”). Jesus appears to put her off—“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). But she persists. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (15:27). Later in Matthew chapter 28, we know that Jesus’ mission extends to all nations, but at this stage he was primarily focused on...

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February 12, 2017: Human Tradition

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 32-33, Psalm 35, Matthew 15:1-20, Acts 21:1-26 Matthew 15:1-20: Perhaps one of the most important teachings of Jesus is in a context where religion is common, and faith—real faith—must be contrasted against the mere externals of “Pharisaic religion” (under its various guises). It is possible to look very impressive on the outside, and follow all sorts of forms and ceremonial observances, fastings and the like, but actually be very far from having a genuine heart for God. The Pharisees and the scribes criticize Jesus’ disciples for not washing—meaning ceremonial washing—before they eat (15:1-2). But, as they point out, the real issue here is that they are not thereby following “the tradition of the elders” (15:2). In other words, they were going against the time-honored traditional teaching, so honored and upheld in Jesus’ time, and still so among religions of our own day. Jesus’ reply is stunning, and the right answer to...

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February 11, 2017: Out of the Boat

Today’s Bible Reading: Exodus 30-31, Psalm 34, Matthew 14:22-36, Acts 20:13-38 Matthew 14:22-36: Perhaps one of the most famous miracles of all dominates the passage in front of us this morning: Jesus walking on water. Many people have wondered whether it is really possible. Could it be possible that someone would walk on water? I have read, or heard, discussions about the properties of water and the physical mass of a human being, and the various discussion about how such a feat could be achieved. But all this is so much nonsense: the point of Jesus walking on water is that it is not possible—not humanly possible, anyway. That is why, at the end, they worship him as the Son of God (14:33). The primary purpose of this encounter, then, is to show us that Jesus is far more than a mere miracle worker—impressive enough as that would be. He is God incarnate, the very...

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