Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bible Reading: Matthew, Ch. 4

Today I read Matthew, chapter 4, in my NIV Life Application Study Bible, which describes Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert as well as the beginning of Jesus’ ministries in Galilee.

Matthew 4:1-11 is all about Satan tempting Jesus, who had been fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus was tired and hungry, and Satan tempts Jesus to use his divine powers and turn stones into bread. Jesus says no, that God will sustain him. Then Satan tempts Jesus to prove who he is by jumping from the highest point in the temple. Satan said if Jesus really is the Son of God, he won't be hurt. God will save him. Jesus says no, that we are not to put God to the test. Satan’s final temptation was telling Jesus that if Jesus would only follow him, Satan would make him rich and give him land. Jesus again says no, that we are to worship only God.

Matthew 4:12-22 describes Jesus calling his first disciples, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew, and two more brothers, James and John, to follow him. All four men had known Jesus previously from his time in Galilee. They had heard him preach and knew who he was and what he wanted. They followed immediately.

The end of this chapter, Matthew 4:23-25 describes Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He taught, he preached to, and he healed the people who came to see him—some of whom came from very far away.

Lots of little things struck me in this chapter. First of all, Satan didn’t come to Jesus when he was well and well fed and strong. Satan came to Jesus when he was tired and weak and hungry—that’s when he tempted Jesus. That struck a chord in me. Of course Satan would choose that time. It reminded me that I have to be strong even when I feel as though I can’t be—God is with me then too.

Another thing that resonated with me was the way that Satan quoted Scripture during his attempts to tempt Jesus. I didn’t include that in my summary above, but Satan knows his Old Testament, and he used part of it in a way to try to convince Jesus that giving in to the temptation would actually be following God’s word in the Bible. I’ve definitely dealt with this in my own life: I’ve known people, and heard people in the public eye, quote the Bible to suit their purposes. They twist Scripture, or they take it out of context to support what they want you to believe or to do. It makes me doubly glad that I’m reading the Bible now for myself.

And finally, the other thing that struck me was the way the first four disciples dropped what they were doing—their daily jobs—to follow Jesus. They didn’t hem haw around. They just followed. Imagine that: leaving your job to follow Christ because he asked you too, putting all your faith in him like that. I’m trying to follow him in my daily life, but I question every single day if I’m doing it right.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him (Matt. 4:18-20).

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Bible Reading: Matthew, Ch. 3

Today’s Bible reading was Matthew, chapter 3, which focuses almost completely on John the Baptist. Although I don’t see it actually written in the Scripture, the life application, study part of my Bible explains that 30 years have passed since the end of chapter 2, which means Jesus is about 32 years old.

John the Baptist was a prophet who preached about repentance and about preparing the way for the Lord. He lived outside Jerusalem, wore clothes made of camel hair, ate locusts and honey (his clothes and his food choices separating him from other religious figures), and baptized people in the Jordan River. He said that his baptism was an outward sign of repentance, but he also said that Jesus, who he said was much greater than himself, would come later and baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John said that Jesus would winnow the people, judging and separating the good from the bad.

At the end of the chapter, Jesus comes to John, asking John to baptize him. At first, John tries to talk him out of it, saying he isn’t good enough to baptize Jesus, that Jesus should baptize him. Jesus convinces John though, and John baptizes Jesus. When Jesus emerges from the water, God speaks and the Holy Spirit touches Jesus; the Holy Trinity is together.

John also yells at the Pharisees and the Sadducees when they come to be baptized. The Pharisees followed the Old Testament but were more concerned with living under their own laws—and insisting others did as well—than living under God’s laws. They wanted to appear good but weren’t as concerned with being good. The Sadducees did not believe all the Old Testament, only the Mosaic law, and they were very caught up in material values, status, and influence. Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees believed Jesus was the Son of God; they were both against him. John the Baptist did not feel they were worthy of baptism as he did not believe in their repentance.

I think I probably learned the most about the Pharisees and the Sadducees from this chapter. I couldn’t have told you anything about either group before this reading, and now I feel I have a basic understanding of who they were.

The two things that stuck out for me from this chapter were the concepts of repentance and of preparing the way for God. Repentance means telling God about your sins and asking for forgiveness for those sins. God will forgive you (for which I’m so grateful). But it goes on from there to also mean that you must then, after confessing your sins, try to live free from those sins going forward. It doesn’t do any good to get baptized and have the outward sign of repentance if inside you’re still the same person.

John also talked about “productive trees” and about God cutting down unproductive trees. John said we need to be productive trees—we need to produce fruit for God. Once we repent, we go forward trying to live better lives. If people see through our actions that we are trying to live a life God would want us to live, then we take a step toward bearing fruit for God. Being generous and helping others bears fruit for God. What’s on the inside has to match what’s on the outside. People should be able to tell from our actions what kind of people we are inside.

All of this can help prepare the way for God. If there is anything that we can do to help others find their way to God, we should try to do that. We should be willing to talk about God, about what we are learning and what we know about God from the Bible and share that with others.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:11-12).

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bible Reading: Matthew, Ch. 2

Today’s reading of my NIV Life Application Study Bible was Matthew, chapter 2, which begins with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It goes on to describe the Magi (the wise men) who travel thousands of miles to visit Jesus, and then it describes King Herod’s attempts to find and kill Jesus.

Something new that I learned in this reading was that Jesus was about two years old by the time the Magi found him. This is quite different from my childhood recollections of stories about the Magi finding him in a manger right after his birth. However, it makes sense. They were walking, and they were traveling from very far away.

King Herod was not a kind ruler, and he was fearful of losing his throne to the child that people were saying was the prophesied king of the Jews. When the Magi told him they had come to find Jesus, he told them to report back to him after they found him so that he could worship Jesus too. They agreed to do that, but once they found Jesus, God told them not to tell Herod, so they left Bethlehem without delivering the message to the king, who didn’t want to worship Jesus—he wanted to kill him.

Joseph then received his second message from God, who told him to take Mary and Jesus out of Bethlehem and go to Egypt. Once again, Joseph followed God’s command, and he moved his family to Egypt. Frustrated that the Magi hadn’t done as they’d promised, King Herod ordered all the boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas who were two years old and younger to be killed in the hopes that one of them would be Jesus and he would secure his throne through these murders. His evil plan failed; Jesus escaped with his earthly family. When Herod died, God spoke to Joseph in another dream and told him to return to Israel. Joseph obeyed and moved his family to Nazareth.

Two lessons stuck with me from this chapter. The first is that the Magi made a long and likely difficult journey to find Jesus, the Son of God, and they brought valuable gifts to give to him.

They sought him.

They brought him gifts.

They didn’t sit around and wait for Jesus to find them. They didn’t sit around and wait to see what gifts or blessings he would bestow on them. They searched for—and found—him. And because he is the Son of God, he is worthy of their gifts. This served to remind me that God wants us to seek him. He wants to know that we actively want him in our lives, and he wants us to be willing to offer our valuables to him (and I don’t think valuables have to be tangible treasures, although I do think giving to worthwhile causes, incredibly small ones and bigger ones, is good and pleases God).

The second lesson I took from this chapter is that in order to follow God, sometimes we have to change directions in our lives, just as the Magi did when they chose not to return to Herod to tell him where Jesus was. We have to trust him.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matt. 2:1-2).

Monday, July 6, 2015

Bible Reading: Matthew, Ch. 1

I decided recently to start reading my Bible again. I’ve missed it, and I definitely have much to learn. After some consideration as to where to start, I opted for The New Testament and opened it to Matthew, chapter 1. (I’m reading the New International Version that is an application study Bible, and I really like it.)

Matthew is writing to the Jews in his letter, so it’s important to him to establish Jesus’ genealogy and show that Jesus is a descendant of both Abraham and King David. (The Jews knew a king was coming to save them, so Matthew wanted to establish that Jesus was indeed that king—born of a king.) So, the first seventeen verses are simply that, Jesus’ lineage.

The rest of the first chapter focuses on Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. And this was the part that resonated with me. Matthew explained that Joseph and Mary were pledged to each other (the families had agreed on the marriage and announced it publicly—they were engaged). It was after this official, public announcement that Mary told Joseph she was pregnant—she was still a virgin, but she was pregnant. This was a potentially incredibly shameful situation for Joseph.

Under Jewish law, Joseph would have been well within his rights to divorce Mary. He would have had to explain why he wanted to divorce her, and once he had done so, Mary could have been stoned to death. Joseph wanted to spare Mary humiliation, so he decided to divorce her quietly.

Having made that decision, Joseph had a dream in which an angel came to him and told him that Mary was carrying the Son of God, that she was indeed still a virgin, and that God wanted Joseph to marry her and to raise her child as his own. Joseph had an incredible choice to make: to do what everyone would expect of him and divorce Mary for carrying a child that wasn’t his or to follow God’s will and accept her and her child.

Can you imagine, for just a moment, being Joseph in that time and place? Imagine the faith, and the integrity, and the strength he had to have to follow God, marry Mary, and raise Jesus as his own. That really struck me.

When I think about choices I have to make in my life, choices to try to follow what God would want me to do versus what might be easier or more accepted, I’m going to remember Joseph. I may not always do it right (I know I won’t always do it right), but I’ll remember Joseph nonetheless.

But after he had considered this [divorcing Mary], an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21).