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March 12, 2017: Be Ready

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 28-30, Psalm 59, Matthew 25:1-13, Romans 8:1-17 Matthew 25:1-13: The Master storyteller takes another story from contemporary life, familiar to his original hearers, and uses it to bring into sharp focus the lesson he has been teaching them. Imagine a wedding. Imagine two sets of bridesmaids. As sometimes happens, the bridegroom is much delayed—so much so, in this instance, that the bridesmaids become drowsy and fall asleep. Suddenly the bridegroom arrives! They all hurry to get ready for the wedding. But only one set of “virgins,” the young ladies attending the wedding, had prepared for the circumstance of the bridegroom being delayed—they had extra oil for their lamp. The other set of bridesmaids had not prepared. When they asked for extra oil from those who had some, they were refused because then there would not be enough to go around. So they have to hurry out and buy some more oil...

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March 11, 2017: Be Found Faithful

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 26-27, Psalm 58, Matthew 24:34-51, Romans 7:13-25 Matthew 24:34-51: As Jesus looks ahead to his return, he makes the amazingly strong statement in verse 36, that should forever have prevented anyone from predicting when he was going to return. What does Jesus mean when he says that even the Son does not know the day and hour? Apart from underlining the futility of human prediction—which it surely does—how can it be possible that God the Son has any area of knowledge that is lacking (for part of the definition of God is that he is omniscient)? I will leave the imponderables to the commentaries, but suffice it to say at this point that God the Son as fully God knew all, but here he showed his submission to the Father’s will as an example to us of humility. However you understand the divinity and humanity of the Son, though, both fully God...

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March 10, 2017: Fig Tree

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 23-25, Psalm 57, Matthew 24:15-35, Romans 7:1-12 Matthew 24:15-35: These verses have caused considerable head scratching among faithful Bible believers, and it is important that we hold to the teaching here with consistency to avoid shrillness and clear mistakes without love and acceptance of legitimate differences of opinion. The first part of this section most clearly refers to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. The Jewish historian Josephus describes these days—a four-year long siege—with particular harshness and devastating impact. The “abomination that causes desolation” (24:15) is a quotation from the Book of Daniel, which may have first been interpreted as referring to the sacrilege of the altar that took place in 168 BC under the Maccabees but (“let the reader understand”) was intended to finally find its fulfillment in the yet more devastating desolation of AD 70. The temple was torn down, starvation, cannibalism, horrors unimaginable. The church historian Eusebius...

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March 9, 2017: Endure and Proclaim

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 21-22, Psalm 56, Matthew 24:1-14, Romans 6:15-23 Matthew 24:1-14: Having denounced fake religion, Jesus’ disciples point out to him how impressive the temple buildings were. Perhaps they thought that this at least was a sign of something genuine and honoring to God. Jesus, however, prophesies that—which has come true—that even the temple will be destroyed. He is now our temple, and through him we have access to God, we worship in Spirit and in truth. In the next section, Jesus casts his eye towards the end. The key interpretive grid for these verses (which run all the way to verse 51, and that end with a parable that explains his teaching) is that Jesus again and again insists that no one knows the day or the hour when the end shall come (24:36). We are to watch out then for those who come prophesying say, “Here he is,” or “There he...

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March 8, 2017: True Religion

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 18-20, Psalm 55, Matthew 23:25-39, Romans 6:1-14 Matthew 23:25-39: Jesus’ denouncement of pharisaic, fake religion continues. Such fake religion is characterized, next, by a concern for external cleanliness over against internal (23:25-26). Washing, ritual cleaning—all these are ways to cover up the malice within. This, then, has a repercussion and an effect. Such fake religion creates “whitewashed tombs” (23:27), movements and people that look great on the outside, but really are hiding death and decay within. And, finally, fake religion has a rather ironic, if not devastating, tendency (23:29-36). First it kills the prophets. Then it builds tombs to commemorate them. To live in the time of a prophet, and to be pierced by his words, is a distinctly uncomfortable experience. Fake religion gets rid of prophets. It does not want to have God’s Word pierce, but rather silent the prophets—even kill them. However, prophets tend (albeit sometimes after their death)...

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March 7, 2017: Straining at a Gnat

Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 15-17, Psalm 54, Matthew 23:13-24, Romans 5:12-21 Matthew 23:13-24: For Jesus to denounce “woe”—both a warning and a declaration of impending judgment—is a serious enough proposition that it would make the bravest quake for fear and only a fool ignore. What was the the result of these woes? Did they repent? Some perhaps did. Many did not. Let us consider carefully the kind of religiosity that Jesus clearly denounces as not only wrongheaded, but woeful. First of all, they shut the kingdom in other people’s faces and won’t enter themselves (23:13). They do not follow Jesus, and they make it very difficult for other people to do so. How many religions are there that not only oppose Jesus, but do everything they can to stop other people from following Jesus! Then, their proselytism is unbounded: they travel over land and sea just to win a single convert (23:15). Proselytism is the zeal...

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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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